Fall Color Report Archives

FOR CURRENT FALL COLOR CONDITIONS PLEASE VISIT – FALL COLOR REPORT

2016 UPDATES

For the 5th year in a row WataugaRoads.com & WataugaOnline.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing.


Final Report from The Fall Color Guy – November 7, 2016

It’s been an interesting season, with below normal precipitation, and above normal temperatures (2016 will go down as THE warmest year in recorded history globally and it will be the third straight year for which we can say that. Think there is no climate change – think again!

But the colors did come out despite the unusual weather, although about a week to ten days late. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being Norman Rockwell spectacular colors (or Jackson Pollock colors), I’d say this year was a 7. Not great, but not bad in places.

There were trees that dropped leaves early, and some red trees didn’t color up as much as could be expected, but in places, the colors were quite nice. Spotty would be the word. And of course, it didn’t help that on THE peak weekend, we had the dreaded wind/rain storm that took down a substantial number of leaves. Sometimes Mother Nature just gets in a mood and there’s nothing to be done about it!

Urban maples in particular, looked great this year, so perhaps in the future we should take more time to check out cities for their fall colors as we do the mountains and rural hillsides!

Colors should be peaking now in the foothills and in the Piedmont area soon if not now. Because of my restricted travel this fall, I won’t be able to check out as many areas as last year. But Stone Mt. State Park and Chimney Rock State Park ought to be looking good this week and coming weekend.

I hope everyone had a great trip to the mountains. Remember, we have some of the cleanest air in all the east, so breathe deeply.

Maybe, just maybe, it will cool down and we’ll have some real fall weather. I know I’m looking forward to a nice frost. And so I leave you this season with the one small pocket of frost and frosted leaves that I found in a corner of my yard earlier this week. Let’s hope for more, and I’ll see you all next fall color season!


Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

Final Report

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for the Week of October 15, 2016 from The Fall Color Guy

As I stated in my last report, I thought colors would begin to come out rapidly this past week, and that has been the case. Pat on the back. Colors are about a week behind schedule compared to previous years, but they are now starting to show nicely. Today I was at Grandfather Mountain State Park, taking pictures and you see them if you go to this directory:
https://drive.google.com/…/fo…/0BxpSVO5IUz-EcHgyelJwMk1EUzA…

It was an unusual day today – as you drove from Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mt. on the Parkway, you would go through areas socked in by clouds. But once you got passed Rough Ridge, the clouds fell away, and the Park was totally clear. It was very unusual, because of the cloud cover was several thousand feet down and coming in from the east toward the flank of Grandfather, where it dissipated. It looked like what you would see from an airplane when you fly over clouds.

The highest elevations were just about at peak today, and there were some nice colorful maples, deep purple American ashes, and Mountain Ash trees with their bright red fruits. BThe birches lost a lot of their leaves in the high winds of last weekend (Jesse Pope, the Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Foundation, told me today that they clocked winds up to 92 mph on the Swinging Bridge during that period! However, the most of the maples held on to their leaves, and they are starting to show as bright red on the landscape. Sugar maples are turning yellow/orange now, and the magnolias are yellowing and turning chocolate brown. The oaks, which are always late turners, are just starting to show some coloration, and so once these other trees are past their peaks, the last hurrah of color will be from these trees.

The colors will peak at 3,000’ and above around Tuesday or Wednesday this week, but will still be good next weekend, which should be our best weekend to see colors in the Boone/Blowing Rock/Grandfather Mt. areas. After next weekend, the best views will be from the overlooks down into the lower forests, such as the Wilson Creek area, and the forests below Linville Falls on the way to Morganton. The drive on Rt. 181 from Pineola to Morganton offers beautiful views, less traffic than the Parkway, and the roadside stop at the Brown Mountain Overlook (of Brown Mountain Lights fame) is a good place to check out leaf colors. There is also a nice falls (Upper Creek Falls: http://www.hikingupward.com/PNF/UpperCreekFalls/), and it’s an easy hike with great fall color along the way. I highly recommend it!

I will say that the colors seem much duller this year – even though some scattering of trees are bright red. The best reds are the ornamental maples in town, but there is the occasional wild red maple too that is showing off nicely (there’s an impressive one on the right side of the Parkway as you head on the Parkway toward Cone Manor from U.S. 321. But the high temperatures and extreme drought this fall have curtailed colors this year. Nonetheless, the oranges and yellows will still be out there, except for the tulip poplars, which because of the drought, are going from yellow to black almost instantly. But it’s still worth a trip to the High Country to check things out. Now, if we could only get a Dunkin Donuts up here, we’d truly be in paradise (we do have a new Krispy Kreme, which helps).
We’re supposed to have near record highs in the next few days, due to a persistent high parked out in the Atlantic, and which is bringing up warm air from the southwest on its backside. That may slow down color development some, and keep the reds duller than we’d like. Sorry, but I can’t do anything about Mother Nature or the weather!

I’ll post more later on how conditions are further south, below Mt. Mitchell, and on into the Smokies, and down to Highlands. But for now, I’d say if you can get up here anytime this coming week, or the next weekend, you’ll hit the colors full on.

Endnote: next weekend will be jam packed at Grandfather, so if you’re planning on going, get there early (before 11 am), or go during the week instead of the weekend. Otherwise, you could be sitting in a traffic jam for up to 1 to 2 hrs on U.S. 221. The same can be said for the Rough Ridge trail.

Happy and Safe Driving!



Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for the Week of October 2, 2016 from The Fall Color Guy

Colors have started appearing, almost as if someone had slowly turned up the color saturation on the forests, just like you can do with your digital photos or TV, and during the week, they have become gradually more noticeable. Although green is still the dominant color, we are finally seeing the beginnings of the color that attract all of us to the mountains at this time of the year.

However, we won’t see really wide-spread colors until the next weekend. So, if the weather holds as it has for the past week, with mornings getting down into the 40s and highs in the 70s, this should push forward the color development. As it’s been sunny also, that should bring out the red colors too, meaning we could be set up for a really good fall color season after all, despite the unusually warm and dry weather in August and September. For the next 10 days, the forecast is for highs in the 60s, lows in the 50s and then down to the 40s, possibly 30s at the higher elevations. I wish the morning lows were lower, but at least we’re heading toward ideal fall color weather.

The red maples in town continue to color up – the dominant variety colors from the top down, and we have dozens of trees with red tops and green bottoms, and that’s quite striking. The occasional maple and sourwood have started showing up in the woods too, plus birches, tulip poplars, and hickories are yellowing up now. Virginia creeper, a dominant vine in the southern Appalachians, turns a brilliant red color, and it is showing off now in places.

This coming week is the best time to check out the high elevations on the Parkway, as they peak earlier than lower elevations. The next two weekends will bookend the peak color season, although it could extend into the third week of October in the Boone/Blowing Rock area if the weather doesn’t get much colder. Warm weather tends to delay the onset of colors somewhat. As an example, see the two photos posted below, courtesy of Dave, from Raleigh. He shows the same location last year and this, and it is apparent that colors were more advanced last year then this year. This location is Purchase Knob, at 5,000′ elevation, and home to the Appalachian Highlands Education Learning Center, a part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cataloochee, outside of Maggie Valley. Thanks to Dave for these photos!

In a post following this one, I’ll provide Jesse Pope’s assessment of the colors in and around Grandfather Mountain. Things are picking up there. Remember, if you go on the weekend now to popular areas like Grandfather Mt., be prepared to wait to get in. Best to go early or during the week. I know, you have to work, but if you have any leave available, this is the time of year to use one or two days of it!.

Some drives to consider: try taking US 64 west to Chimney Rock, through the gorge and on to Hendersonville, Brevard and through Cashiers, and ending up in Highlands. This highway meanders along the escarpment, especially west of Brevard, where the mountains drop down into Georgia. Excellent drive, and along the way are waterfalls and numerous hikes. I recommend Whitesides Mountain, between Cashiers and Highlands. Wonderful views. For the easiest hike, go up the jeep path first (not as pretty, but an easy, moderate slope all the way to the top), and then, make a roundtrip by taking the nature trail back to the parking lot (which is much easier to navigate going down than up). Also, just south of Lake Toxaway is Gorges State Park, with Rainbow Falls (2 mile hike one-way, all downhill, but not too difficult) and many trails. This park is somewhat lower in elevation and will change toward the end of October, but it’s a beautiful place, with a very nice visitor center. It is one of our newer state parks. Finally, don’t forget the Cradle of Forestry (where forest science started in North America) and Looking Glass Falls too, not too far from Brevard.

Where to eat? I recommend Randevu in Cashiers – wonderful breakfasts and lunches, great prices. The Market in Highlands is an unusual combination of a deli, pizza joint, and restaurant, also at very good prices. In Maggie Valley, try Butts-on-the-Creek for very good BBQ, while in the Boone/Blowing Rock area you can get good BBQ at Woodlands in Blowing Rock, at McKethans and Pedalin Pig in Boone (and Pedalin Pig also near Banner Elk) and also at Hampton’s Store in Linville.

Lastly, I recommend Linville Falls for a great hike (off of the Parkway), and the Chestoa Overlook a few miles south of the turnoff for Linville Falls. Nice picnic area, hiking along the Parkway through a nice oak-hickory-maple woodland, easy, and a very nice stone overlook with good views of Table Rock in the distance (very short hike, just a few hundred feet).

This week, and next weekend, are the times to check out the high elevations on the Parkway, from Mt. Mitchell, to Craggy Gardens, and Graveyard Fields, all the way to the highest point on the Parkway in the Balsams (at 6,000’). And don’t forget that the Parkway ends in the Smokies, and the drive up to Clingmans Dome is definitely worth it.

I’ll post photos to my Google drive location again, and you can view them here:
https://drive.google.com/…/fo…/0BxpSVO5IUz-ET0t5bmo3Wjg0S2M…

Happy Leaf Looking!!


Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for the Week of September 25, 2016 from The Fall Color Guy

It’s been hot (like 10 degrees above normal hot) for the past week and we’ve had essentially no rainfall (just a mist on three days). You can check out the history of Boone weather over the past few months here:https://weather.com/weather/monthly/l/Boone+NC+28607:4:US. We have had only 0.07” of rain since the first of September and the last rainfall of any substance was only 0.38” on August 21st. It is DRY here and the drought monitoring system now has us in a moderate drought category:http://www.ncdrought.org/hires.php while the southern portion of the mountains is in even more severe drought conditions.

These weather conditions tend to slow down and delay the onset of fall leaf colors, and when I compare this week to last week, I don’t see much of a change. There is more color development among the ornamental red maples in Boone, and a few red maples and sourwoods are turning in the woods, but aside from those, and a few sassafras, it is still very green up here.

Because of the drought, the tulip poplars, birches, and cherries are losing their leaves prematurely. In addition, I’ve seen some sugar maples with brown leaves at the tips of their branches, which suggests drought stress to me. It is supposed to rain on Mon and Tue of this coming week, and that will supply the trees with some water before they get any more stressed out, and it will bring down the temperatures to normal for this time of the year, and that should jump start color development in the woods. However, the predicted rainfall amounts are low to moderate, so this will not get us out our current drought situation.

You can also check out how scientists are studying phenology (this is when trees leaf out, flower, and lose leaves, over a season), which was set up courtesy of funding from the National Science Foundation. It is at this site:http://budburst.org/phenocam. If you go to this page (https://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/gallery/) you can see a gallery of webcam photos from around the country, each updated several times a day, and you can follow how colors develop around the country and around the world.

For my local webcam, which is a part of the PhenoCam Network, go here:https://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/sites/asuhighlands/. Note that as of today, the red maple right in the front is turning color nicely. This site is right off Highway 105 as one leaves Boone going south, and so is very representative of the High Country. The main trees in this forest are black cherry, black locust, yellow birch, and tulip poplar, plus some white pines. It will be interesting to watch, for the first time, the color change in this young forest.

Lastly, I want to thank Margaret Murphy, from Atlanta, whom I met on my hike around Price Lake today, for helping me out with Mila, the fall color dog. Mila tugs all the time we are hiking, making it difficult for me to take pictures. Margaret was kind enough to hold Mila’s leash when I wanted to take photos and I give a shout out to her for her kind help and engaging conversation as we walked the 2.3-mile trail around the lake. I highly recommend this hike for those who want an easy hike with no major rocks or hills. The trees surrounding the lake usually develop very nice color each fall too, and you can rent a canoe or kayak if you want and paddle around the lake.

Since there is little color to report this week, most of my photos focused on what’s happening on the forest floor. Lycopodiums are out and putting up their structures to release their spores, called sporophytes. These plants are also called ground pines, even though they are not pines. These primitive vascular plants, which do not produce seeds, have been around since the time of the dinosaurs! Rhododendrons are now dropping their oldest leaves, so all that yellow you see on them is a seasonal and natural occurrence. They are just getting rid of the oldest leaves. You can access my photos of my hike at Price Lake, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at this site: https://drive.google.com/…/fo…/0BxpSVO5IUz-ESlFpNmdzM1NMRFU…

Mushrooms are doing their thing now, and the goldenrods are just getting past their peak, while the asters are currently at peak. And lastly, white snakeroot is flowering abundantly in the woods, especially along trail edges. This plant, which is highly poisonous when ingested, can get in the milk of cows if they eat this plant, and in fact, Abraham Lincoln’s mother may have died from drinking contaminated milk because her cows ate this plant.

That’s about it for this week. I expect by next week to be able to report much more color, since temperatures will be dropping nearly 30 degrees by the end of this week. Also, the Grandfather Mt. Foundation will be starting up their daily fall leaf color photos on October 1, and as I’ve done each year, I will post those on my Fall Color Guy site for you. Cheers!


Fall Color Report for Week of September 18, 2016 from The Fall Color Guy

The weather in the mountains has been above normal in temperature and below normal in terms of rainfall. The NC Climate Office predicts drought will develop throughout the mountains this fall, especially near the Georgia border: (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/…/expert_as…/season_drought.png). The higher temperatures could slightly delay the onset of fall colors, but only by a few days, so I don’t think you’ll have to change your plans if you’ve already decided on which weekend or weekday that you’ll be coming up to the mountains. However, the drought could have more dramatic impacts, especially on the quality of the display.

Already, I’m seeing tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) trees losing massive amounts of their inner leaves, which are turning yellow and are then followed quickly by a blackening (caused most likely by oxidation byproducts, like when an apple turns brown after you bite into it). In years with adequate rainfall, tulip poplars hold on to their leaves later into the season, and near the end of a fall color season, stand as grand, yellow beacons against a gray, leafless hillside. But this year, I’m afraid that display may not come to be.

On my hike to Beacon Heights yesterday, off the Blue Ridge Parkway just east of Grandfather Mountain (and a highly recommended, short, easy, hike) I saw the beginnings of fall color, with red maples (Acer rubrum) coloring up, huckleberries and blueberries turning red, and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) on the outcrops showing nice orange-red coloration. Birches were yellowing up and blackberries (Rubus sp.) were turning a deep red in places.

Since the forests are still mostly green, the pleasure of visiting the mountains right now is more down to earth, that is, at eye-level and on the forest floor, where there is a lot happening that at peak fall color time most visitors either miss or never see for want of looking down instead of up. When I did this, I accidentally caught two moths “in flagrante delicto” (see link to my photos below). Well, birds and bees do it, and so do moths, although where these two got romantic came with a great risk of getting squashed, as it was right in the middle of the trail.

One unusual understory plant that has great color, but which most people miss if they are not being observant, is witch hobble, a native viburnum (Viburnum lantanoides) that has large, oppositely place green leaves. At this time of the year, the leaves begin to develop large purple blotches on them, in no particular or obvious pattern that I can detect, and this gives the plant a mottled appearance unlike anything else in the understory. With time, the entire leaf turns a deep burgundy to purple color, which highlights the upright, tan buds located between the two leaves. It is well worth the effort to find this plant when you’re in the mountains, as it is one of the most of our understory plants. They are scattered along the Beacon Heights trail, and also about two-thirds the way up the trail at Elk Knob State Park. I’m sure they are also in many other places, as it is very common.

One color that defines this time of year is yellow, due to the super abundance of goldenrods (Solidago sp.). There are several species here in the mountains, with some restricted to trails in the woods, and others to sunny locations along roadsides and in old-fields. They are at their peak flowering right now, and are beautiful in their own right, with the yellow flowers making a nice contrast to their dark green foliage. Note goldenrods do NOT make you sneeze, as their pollen is not what causes most people’s allergies at this time of the year. Rather, that is another plant, the giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida). So you can look at goldenrods without stress or discomfort!

Also blooming now are a variety of fall asters (Symphyotrichum sp.) which tend to grow along woodland edges in moist places. Often interspersed with them are gentians, with their deep blue, upright pointing flowers. These diminutive plants, often less than 6” tall, are nonetheless one of the most beautiful, not to mention unusual, flowers at this time of the year.

As noted earlier, this is the peak fruiting time for Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) and for other berry shrubs (sorry, I don’t know the species photographed on my hike (see photo link below). If you do know the species, send me the name! Red spruce (Picea rubra) are fruiting now and their resinous cones are easy to see along the edges of the northern rock outcrop at Beacon Heights. If you happen to touch one and get that sticky resin on your fingers, a solvent such as finger nail polish remover, or pure alcohol, should remove it.

Despite the drought, there was enough mist and dew yesterday at Beacon Heights to wet up the lichens on the branches of trees and on the rocks. One of the most common leafy lichens is the rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata), which is a dull green when wet, and a blackish color when dry. The undersides of this lichen are covered in black fungal tissue and when it dries, it folds over to show that side to the sun, possibly because that black pigment acts as a sunscreen to protect the algae that grow in the lichen (which is an organism composed of a fungal host and algal symbiont). A recent paper in Science has found that many lichens may actually have two different fungal partners to go along with the algae, a discovery that has taken the lichen community by storm (there is such a thing as a community of lichen enthusiasts!). Here’s the link to the NY Times article on this (and if makes the NY Times, it must be BIG news, right?).
http://www.nytimes.com/…/lichen-symbiotic-relationship.html…

In conclusion, I predict that starting next weekend, we will start to see noticeable changes on the hillsides at the higher elevations, such as the summit of Grandfather and other high peaks here in the Southern Appalachians, and then it will begin moving downhill and the true fall leaf color season will get into gear! Remember, at an elevation of 3,000’ to about 4,500’, the peak will be early to mid-October, especially in mountains north of Asheville up to the Virginia border. Lower elevations will peak in late October, and below 2,000’, in early November even.

This week, I’m trying something new – posting my pictures on a shared Google drive. Here is that link: https://drive.google.com/…/fol…/0BxpSVO5IUz-EU1lNUHVzZEdtMDA
As this is an experiment, let me know if it works. If not, I’ll go back to posting on Facebook again, but as you know, that program has been giving me fits lately in terms of posting pictures.
Enjoy!!


Fall Color Report for the Week of September 11, 2016 from The Fall Color Guy

Another week has passed and there have been some noticeable changes in tree leaf color, but most of this is confined to urban trees and bushes and not those out on in the forests on the hillsides. As the pictures below confirm, the ornamental red maples are really starting to turn now. They have a very peculiar pattern of turning – first from the top, and often the east side, which then works downward with each passing day until the entire tree is a bright red. Some turn a lot earlier than others.

Notice this set of red maples in the parking lot at Galileo’s in Boone, where two of them are already at peak red color, while their neighbor is still all green. This may reflect their origin, with some coming from northern stock, and others from southern stock. Northern trees planted in the south tend to end their growing season earlier than southern trees because they are probably cueing in on daylength, and down here, the days are shorter in the summer than they are up north. Hence, northern trees planted in the south “think” it’s later in the season then it really is, and hence a time of year when it is usually colder, so they shut down prematurely. For you purists, I know trees don’t “think” in the sense that people do – it’s just an expression.

A lot of sugar maples are showing flagging now – that is, a single branch or a group of branches in one part of the crown begins to change to yellow or orange while the rest of the canopy is still a verdant green. I’ve even seen some trees in the woods doing this, and since most urban sugar maples are not selected for their fall color, this is just something this species does in the fall. Deserves more study!

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is starting to turn its usual deep, burgundy red color. This common vine, which usually grows up tree trunks, can also be a nasty invasive in your garden, where it creeps along the ground (which probably gives the plant its name!) and grows over your shrubs and flowers. However, it does turn a beautiful color and when the tree leaves fall off the tree it is climbing, you get this interesting play of red against the dark gray trunk and deep blue sky. Quite beautiful, especially in the morning when the colors stand out the most.

Did you know that Charles Darwin studied this species? He did experiments on the tendrils that the plant uses to attach to its host, seeing how much weight they could support before detaching (up to 10 lbs if I remember correctly). This plant secretes a very strong adhesive compound from pads on the ends of its tendrils upon contact with a suitable host and uses it to attach itself to the tree. The tendrils also coil after they attach which provides flexibility so that the plant doesn’t come off its host in high winds. Pretty good for an organism without a brain!

Another tree that is just starting to turn is green ash. This tree (Fraxinus Americana), can turn a deep purple color, and I’ve seen some examples of it along U.S. 421 west of Boone. Other ashes will turn yellow. And winged burning bushes (Euonymous alatus), are turning now also, which seems a little early to me.

I am concerned about the long-range forecast for this month. I heard we were to have above average temperatures in September, but when I checked some sites on the web, they say we’ll have normal temperatures, which is good. However, we’re predicted to have only sporadic rain, and it’s getting quite dry here, with some sugar maples and birches dropping their leaves. If it continues dry, we may lose some fall color to premature leaf drop, including the bright yellow tulip poplars later on. The high temperatures, if they persist, could also reduce the intensity of the red pigments some trees produce (the anthocyanins) and that could lead to a duller fall color season. It could also delay the onset of colors, as some trees continue to hold on to their leaves later into the season if it’s warm. However, there’s still time for cool weather to set in and we may yet have a really good fall color season. The next three weeks will determine that!

Lastly, as you drive around the high country, you’ll notice an abundance of bright yellow flowers. Some of those are related to black-eyed Susans, such as sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) while those with very small yellow flowers in clusters at the tops of herbs about 3 feet tall are Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis or S. altissima). Ironweed is also out now, with its incredibly deep purple flowers (Vernonia novaboracensis or V. gigantea).

For those contemplating where to go when they get to the High Country, here are some brief suggestions. For more details, contact the tourism sites here in the area, and Asheville area too.
I’d of course, suggest driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, anywhere, but the higher it is, the earlier you should visit, since colors start earlier the higher up you are. I’d suggest several of our state and national parks, including Grandfather Mt. (there is an access fee), Elk Knob State Park (free), Gorges State Park (free), and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll post updates on some of these as we get closer to fall color time. Also, I’d suggest the Pisgah National Forest, with its drives near Brevard and its abundant waterfalls. You can also see the Cradle of Forestry, where scientific forest management first started in the United States, on the property of the Vanderbilts, who at one time owned 125,000 acres of land near Asheville.

Have a great week!

Goldenrods in Vilas - Sept 11
Goldenrods in Vilas – Sept 11
Red and green maples in Boone. Sept 11.
Red and green maples in Boone. Sept 11.
Red Maple at Harris Teeter shopping center. Sept 11.
Red Maple at Harris Teeter shopping center. Sept 11.

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for August 27, 2016

Well folks, I’M BACK!

This post marks the first official fall leaf color post for the 2016 season and I’m looking forward to yet another great fall color season. So once a week, watch for my posts.

One technical note: Although I consider myself technically savvy, I plead ignorance with regards to social media. I don’t use Twitter or Instagram (and if I do show up on those places, it’s totally by accident!). If you send me something via messaging, like Facebook messenger, I may or may not see it. So if you don’t get a prompt reply, it’s nothing personal. I just didn’t know you sent it. Best to send requests via regular postings, or email ([email protected]).

So, what’s up for this week? We are getting out of the dog-days of August (click HERE to see why they’re called that), and temperatures this week are about 10oF above normal, so that’s not good. But we’ve had sufficient rain in August to alleviate the drought conditions that were building up in July. That’s good for trees and may prevent too much premature leaf drop. What we need now is a switch to cooler temperatures, especially in September. Morning temperatures are dropping somewhat in the last week, so perhaps that portends a cooling trend.

Some trees begin turning color in August, such as sugar and red maples, and even dogwoods. Others, like buckeyes and birches and cherries start to drop leaves in late summer. But this happens every year, so I’m not worried. The maples do perplex me though, as they also hold on to their leaves late into the fall color season. I guess it reflects either genetic variation, local habitat conditions, or perhaps horticultural varieties that have been planted in cities (some red maples are bred for their fall color especially and may turn unusually early, particularly if they come from the north).

But the hillsides are still dominated by GREEN. If you want to watch the color change here in Boone, you can go to various webcams, but I suggest you watch our new webcam, which I installed this summer on the outskirts of Boone, and which is focused on a young forest. It is part of a nationwide forest monitoring program known as PhenoCam (http://richardsonlab.fas.harvard.edu/phenocam.html), run out of Harvard University, and which uses video images from cameras all around the country to determine if there are any changes in the timing of leaf flushing, duration, and loss in the fall. You can see the images for our Boone site at this web address:https://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/sites/asuhighlands/ and for all sites at this website: https://phenocam.sr.unh.edu/webcam/gallery/. Our new webcam is courtesy of a National Science Foundation Grant that my colleague, Dr. Zack Murrell, and I received this year in conjunction with three other schools: UNC-Asheville, Warren Wilson College, and East Tennessee State University. Each of those universities also has a webcam which is part of the PhenoCam network. Your tax dollars doing great environmental research!! Thanks!

For those wondering when to see colors, know that they start first at the highest elevations and then work their way down with time. At Grandfather Mt. State Park, trees will begin changing in late September at the upper elevations, and by mid-October will be peaking at about 3,500’ elevation, and at lower elevations, such as around Asheville at 2,400’, in late October. You can get a rough idea of when colors peak by going to my fall color page at this address and accessing the fall color map:http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors and for map:http://biology.appstate.edu/f…/fall-color-map-north-carolina.

That’s about it for now. See you next week!

 


For the 5th year in a row WataugaRoads.com & WataugaOnline.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing.

 On Wednesday (August 24, 2016) WataugaOnline.com ask Dr. Neufeld about predictions for the upcoming fall season, and his full reply is below:

“I’m seeing some early color in the maples, and some leaf drop in birches, but nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think the drought was severe enough to cause major problems. So, I think we’re on for another good fall color season. Mornings are starting to get cooler, so we’re entering the typical fall weather patterns. Looking good so far!”

Dr.Neufeld shared some thoughts just before previous fall seasons that are still relevant for this, or any, fall season:

As for wet weather, there have been some publications on the impacts of weather on fall color (especially timing, not so much quality). Precipitation has only minor effects on timing in the fall. Temperature is more important. So, at this point, I don’t see anything to make me think that fall colors will be adversely affected, either in timing or quality.

What happens in mid- to late August and in September, temperature-wise, will be more important, especially for quality (notably the intensity of the red colors)”.

People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought.

Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example)”.

Fall Color 101

2016 UPDATES

For the 5th year in a row WataugaRoads.com & WataugaOnline.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing.


2015 UPDATES

For the 4th year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing.

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of October 25, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook :

Regarding fall leaf colors – I was pleasantly surprised at how bright the colors were along U.S. 421 in Deep Gap up to the intersection with US 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. As one heads down in elevation going east on US 421, the colors are spectacular down to about 2,000′. Very nice.

A drive along the Parkway from US 421 to Blowing Rock, or north to Laurel Springs would be excellent this week. Of course, the weather may not cooperate, as the remnants of Hurricane Patricia are moving in.

In the Boone/Blowing Rock area, the oaks are looking good, as I mentioned yesterday. But what surprised me was the degree of color lower down in the foothills near North Wilkesboro. More color than I had expected. Even as low down as Lexington there was a lot of color showing already. Good viewing everywhere it seems!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of October 11, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Today, the Fall Color Guy and his daughter Gabriela scouted out the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Thunderhill Overlook just outside Blowing Rock down to the Chestoa Overlook about 10 miles below Linville. It was a gorgeous day, and the Parkway was full up with leaf lookers.

This is THE PEAK WEEK for the Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain section of the Parkway. The same might be said for the Cashiers/Highlands area, according to my contacts down that way. Colors have exploded out over the weekend, even despite the dreary, rainy Saturday that we had. Luckily for us, there was little or no wind on Saturday, so while some leaves did come down, many stayed up, and are now turning beautiful colors.

One notable color addition this week is the black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica). This tree turns a lovely deep red color that complements the reds of the maples, sourwoods and sassafras trees. Today, the colors were really spectacular along the Blue Ridge Parkway from below Holloway Mountain road down to the Beacon Heights parking lot. I saw a lot of reds splashed against a background of brilliant orange and yellow. Despite all the bad weather we’ve had, the trees have held their ground, and are now showing us all a magnificent display of color.

Forests below 3,000’ are still predominantly green, and so they will color up in the next two weeks, but right now, the peak color is from about 5,000’ or so down to about 3,000’. If you head south of Linville, the colors become more muted, with fewer red trees and more yellow ones (due to a change in species composition over to hickories, ash and oak). When you get past Little Switzerland, heading south toward Mt. Mitchell State Park, the colors begin to pick up again, and from there to Craggy Gardens, you’ll have great views this week up to next weekend. The same can be said for the area south of Waynesville to the Waterrock Knob area of the Parkway.

The Smokies are still working up to their peak color, and most of the lower elevations are still predominantly green. They will work up to their peak color in the next two weeks, and Gatlinburg should be at peak color at the end of this month.

You can check out the status of the fall color there at this website:http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm .

You can also check out their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of October 4, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

That pesky low pressure system that has been plaguing the southeast is still with us this week, but today it seems to be showing signs of dissipating. For one brief instant, late this afternoon, I actually saw the sun! We’ve had something like 12 straight days with clouds/mist/rain, exactly the wrong weather for good fall leaf colors. However, the saving grace is that this all occurred when the majority of trees in the High Country were still green, and were holding onto their leaves tightly. Thus, even though there is a lot of debris on the ground from the rains and winds, many of the trees, especially those at mid-elevations (2,500’ to 4,000’, i.e., Boone/Blowing Rock area) still have their leaves. And because the weather will improve starting tomorrow, getting sunnier and warmer, I predict that those trees will quickly begin turning color.

However, I have to be honest – after my travels today, I was amazed at just how many leaves have been taken off the trees. In some places, I’d estimate 20%-40% of the leaves had been knocked down, mainly from just two species: yellow birches and tulip poplars. There are some maple and magnolia leaves on the ground too, but the birches and poplars probably make up 90% of the fallen leaves.

The other important observation from today is that in the Boone/Blowing Rock area, many of the hillsides are now 50% to 70% colored up, much more than I expected. To me this means that as the weather improves and gets sunnier and drier, colors will rapidly approach their peak for the High Country, perhaps by the end of this coming week and into that trailing weekend (Oct 8 – 10th), with good color still persisting into that following week (Oct 11-15th). I’m not seeing a lot of reds (which is what happens when it gets cloudy/rainy), so I’m inclined to knock down my prediction from being an exceptional year to just a very good year.

Higher elevations were already starting to turn color prior to this episode of bad weather, especially around Grandfather Mt., and at other sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway, such as Graveyards, Waterrock Knob, and Craggy Gardens. However, if you go to those sites, and the leaves are gone, they still offer wonderful trails for hiking to overlooks, and from them you can view the fall leaf colors at the lower elevations.

This past week, the birches really began yellowing, along with the tulip poplars and magnolias. By the way, magnolias and tulip poplars are closely related and among the more ancient flowering plants, so it’s not surprising that they both change colors at near the same time, and that both turn yellow, although the magnolias quickly morph over into a lovely chocolate brown.

Our sugar, mountain, and red maples are also turning colors now. Mountain maple, a lesser known maple species, turns an interesting orange/red color. It is found mainly at higher elevations, and is a prominent species along the road in Grandfather Mountain State Park. It doesn’t get as big as some of the other maples. Sugar maples can turn a variety of colors, ranging from yellow to orange to red, while red maples essentially produce just red leaves. Along U.S. 221 between Pineola and Linville are some really large sugar maples, just off the highway, that are turning a nice yellow color now.

Sourwoods, if not already a deep burgundy red, are switching over to that color now, as are sassafras, which like sugar maples, can have every color on them at one time. Hickories tend to turn a dull yellow then brown, and I’m afraid they are not one of my favorite fall color trees. A bright spot in the forests, at eye level, is witch hazel, an interesting understory shrub that is common throughout the southern Appalachians. Not only do the leaves turn a golden yellow, speckled with brown, but it is one of the only plants that flowers at this time of the year. The flowers are composed of curly yellow filaments which are the petals. Its pollinator is a small moth.

Stay dry and have a great week!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of September 27, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Starting on Thursday of this past week, a low pressure system became stalled off the east coast of the Carolinas, bringing substantial amounts of rain and wind all the way into the mountains of western North Carolina and Tennessee, plus upstate South Carolina and Georgia. However, the cloud cover also moderated low nighttime temperatures, and while it has been cool during the days, it hasn’t been getting as cold at night like it did prior to these rains. When there are clear skies, infra-red radiation (heat) can escape into space, resulting in cold mornings.

As a result, the development of fall leaf color has slowed down this past week, something that I had mentioned could happen. This means that we are probably back on a regular schedule for peak leaf colors, meaning that colors will peak during the first week of October at high elevations (4,500’ or above), around mid-October (the 10th through the 16th from 4,500’ to 2,500’), and during the last week of October in the Asheville area (~2,000 – 2,500’).

It has rained continuously since Thursday of this last week, and the weather forecast for the entire coming week is somewhat bleak – at least a 30% to 50% chance of rain every day until Friday (even thunderstorms on Tuesday!), with moderate temperatures every day. This will probably keep the rate of fall leaf color development at a slow pace, but not stop it. So, be patient. The rain, which we need, will abate by the following weekend, and that weekend should be the first really good one for full-fledged fall leaf color viewing. One thing in our favor is that all this rain has occurred prior to the leaf color peak, when the leaves are still held on the trees fairly strongly. So while some leaves have come down during this recent stormy spate, the majority that have not yet turned color are still attached tightly to the trees. So, I’m optimistic that we’ll have plenty of leaves left for a great fall color display in the next few weeks.

Fall Color Photos from Grandfather Mountain (Monday Sept 21-Wed Sept 23)

Although autumn colors are just beginning to arrive on Grandfather Mountain, a few areas, such as Cliffside Overlook, are already providing opportunities for photographers, such as Monty Combs, to capture colorful images of foliage at higher elevations. Photo by Jim Morton | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Although autumn colors are just beginning to arrive on Grandfather Mountain, a few areas, such as Cliffside Overlook, are already providing opportunities for photographers, such as Monty Combs, to capture colorful images of foliage at higher elevations. Photo by Jim Morton | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
 Fog meets bog in this photo shot in Linville Gap, just down the road from Grandfather Mountain. As cooler temperatures persist, with leaves following suit, Grandfather’s naturalists posit that autumn 2015 seems to have started a week earlier than anticipated. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Fog meets bog in this photo shot in Linville Gap, just down the road from Grandfather Mountain. As cooler temperatures persist, with leaves following suit, Grandfather’s naturalists posit that autumn 2015 seems to have started a week earlier than anticipated. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Fall color peeks through at Linville Peak, just across Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge. A sign of cool weather, blueberry bushes turn a vibrant red, with sassafras and sedge grass adding some golden hues to the fall fray. Linville Peak sits at 5,295 feet above sea level, offering visitors a spectacular vista of autumn in the High Country. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Fall color peeks through at Linville Peak, just across Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge. A sign of cool weather, blueberry bushes turn a vibrant red, with sassafras and sedge grass adding some golden hues to the fall fray. Linville Peak sits at 5,295 feet above sea level, offering visitors a spectacular vista of autumn in the High Country. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Fall Color Report for Week of September 20, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

It has been delightfully cool here in the High Country for the past 10 days or so, especially in the mornings. It has also been very sunny. And as I’ve said for many years, if you get cool, sunny weather in September, you’re headed for good fall leaf color. And we’re getting it! So, if this keeps up for the next few weeks, we should be headed for a really, really, good fall leaf color season!

Color has burst out this week here (and burst is the appropriate word!). Last Sunday, I said the word to describe the forests then was “green”. But now, just one week later, the hillsides are showing color, some of it quite good. The best color so far is between Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway. For some reason, this area always develops the brightest colors, and does so first in the High Country. I’m not sure why, but every year it develops before other areas. So, right now that is the best section of the Parkway to see some good color, although I was told by one person that north of Doughton Park on the Parkway (toward Virginia), color was good along that stretch of the road. Price Lake is starting to show color also, which is just south of Blowing Rock.

What trees are showing now? Yellow buckeyes are losing their leaves now in droves, and they turn a mucky-yellow/brown. Buckeyes are among the first trees to leaf out and among the first to lose their leaves in the fall. Way back, when I had dark black curly hair, a friend and I even published a scientific paper documenting this pattern on some understory buckeyes. The yellow buckeyes are producing their seeds now (the buckeyes) which make great souvenirs, but don’t eat them – they’re toxic.

Maples have started turning, and not just in town, but in the woods too. Sourwoods are already mostly red, sumacs are starting to turn along the roadsides, and pin cherrys are orangy/red now. Some of the tulip poplars are showing hints of yellow, but the Fraser magnolias are ahead of them and already turning yellow before they shift over to chocolate brown. Witch hazels are just beginning their transition to yellow leaves, and they are also blooming now (one of the only shrubs that flowers in the fall season). Sassafras are starting their color transition, and you can find leaves that are yellow, orange, or red, all on the same tree! Lots of shrubs are turning now, especially the huckleberrys and blueberrys, which are a spectacular red at this time of the year.

If I were to rate the degree of color change now in the High Country, I’d say it would be a 1 on a scale of 10. Although this week may cause some to think the colors will be early this year, I caution that a warm up in the next few weeks could delay it and put it back on schedule. So, at this point, I’m still predicting that peak color in the Boone/Blowing Rock area will still be mid-October.

I’ll post some observations for the southern mountains in the next day or so. So, keep reading and we’ll hope to see you all sometime this fall.

Fall Color Report for Week of September 13, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Still green out there! But! This morning it was 48 F at my house, and probably several degrees colder at the higher elevations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A cool front has moved in and dropped temperatures substantially, which is good for fall color development. But there hasn’t been much change in the leaves since last week, although a few plants are showing color prominently now, especially up on the ridges near Grandfather Mountain.

Today, I hiked the Rough Ridge trail, which is just north of the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you haven’t done that trail, I highly recommend it. You do have to watch your footing in places, but the dangerous overlooks (at least some of them!) are bounded by a cable and I didn’t get too close to the edges. In my next post, I will put up an album of pictures from today’s walk.

So, what’s changing now? In town, the planted red maples, often a horticultural variety that emphasizes their brilliant red fall colors, are really starting to show. These trees first turn red in their upper half, creating a bicolored tree for a while, before the colors move to the lower half. The sourwoods are also changing to red, and of course the dogwoods are already there. On the Rough Ridge trail, the huckleberries are starting to turn deep red, as are some trees that unfortunately, I don’t know what are (help if you can, see the album following this post!). Chestnuts (Aesculus octandra, not American chestnut) are dropping their leaves now, and are always among the first trees to do so each fall.

That’s about it for now. With this cool front moving in, I expect to see color changes pick up in the next two weeks. I’ll keep you posted!!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of September 6, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

The word for this week is …. “green”. Although this is the Labor Day weekend, the plants are still laboring and by that, I mean still doing photosynthesis and converting carbon dioxide into sugars and starches. However, there are a few plants that have started to turn early, so if you come to the High Country in the next few weeks, you’ll be able to see a little color. But for now, the hillsides are still dominated by the color green.

The main turning plants are some maples (just a few though), and huckleberries (on the rock outcrops mainly) and some sassafras which are showing orange and red coloration. Most everything else is still green. I did see a Viburnum beginning to turn its usual deep orange, but it was an isolated occurrence, and although I saw one patch of red Galax, all the rest were still deep green.

It’s been warm during the days while the mornings have been cool. These are near perfect conditions for a good fall color season. I’ve noticed a few tulip poplars showing some yellow, which may indicate some effect of the earlier dry period that we had in July, and our dogwoods continue to deepen their burgundy red leaves even more. But everything else looks great, and so at this point in time, I’m optimistic that we should have good fall leaf color in October.

I’ll post an album of my best pictures from today’s hike on the Beacon Heights trail. This is a short, but highly recommended trail, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Grandfather Mountain. The rock outcrops afford great views of the forests in the Wilson Creek drainage to the east and there are abundant witch hazel, one of the few plants that flowers in the fall.

So, until next week, enjoy the rest of your Labor Day Holiday!

Fall Color Report for Week of August 30, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

As the end of August approaches, we’re starting to see the very beginnings of fall color, but only sporadically. The forests are still quite green and lush, but the sentinels, those early turning species, are letting us know that bigger things are in store over the next few weeks. Burning bushes are starting to turn their vivid red (Euonymus alata), and dogwoods (Cornus florida) are slowly turning a deep burgundy red. There are a few scattered sugar and red maples that are turning now, but these the exceptions, rather than the rule. In Boone, along Rivers Street, many of the sugar maples turn early, but I think this is due to stresses resulting from the steam line running along the road, plus road salt from last winter, and compacted soils. Finally, two of our most notable vine species, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus virginiana) are starting to turn. Poison ivy turns an orangy-red color, while Virginia creeper turns a brilliant red. Because they turn so early, the trees that they climb up are still green, so it’s a nice display of Christmasy colors here early in the fall color season.

A recent trip to Howard’s Knob this past Thursday, which is 4,400’ in elevation, or about 1,000’ higher than the town of Boone, showed the forests there to still be very green. I’ll check out Grandfather Mt. this week, because it’s nearly 1,500′ higher than Howards Knob, and colors will start earlier there than just about anywhere else here in the High Country. Fall colors begin to develop first at higher elevations (which are colder), and then they move downhill, about 1,000′ every 7-10 days later. The lack of color change at Howards Knob shows that we’re still at least a week or two away from wide-scale color changes here in the Southern Appalachians.

As I noted in several previous postings, the weather over the next four weeks (essentially September) can have a large influence on the timing and quality of fall leaf color. For the upcoming week, the situation is mixed – there is a chance of rain nearly every day (but except for Monday, is less than 40%). Temperatures will be in the high 70s and lows around 60F, which is not too bad. If morning temperatures keep dropping through September, that will be good news for fall color development. Here’s the official National Weather Service forecast site: http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php

As you may or may not know, there is a strong El Niño forming off the west coast of South America. An El Niño event occurs when westward winds slow down off the west coast of South America. This reduces upwelling of deep ocean cold waters and as a result, the upper Pacific Ocean heats up more than normal. This year NOAA predicts a strong El Niño, with heating of up to 2C more than normal (or about 3.6F).

These events often cause weather changes around the world, and can affect our fall and winter weather patterns. The NOAA El Niño prediction center says this about effects on the United States: “Across the contiguous United States, temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are expected to remain minimal during the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere summer and increase into the late fall and winter (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday August 20th). El Niño will likely contribute to a below normal Atlantic hurricane season….”

The Climate Prediction says that past El Niño effects result in warmer, but drier falls in the Southeastern United States. See these maps:

Temperature:
http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/…/…/enso/elnino/UStrank/ond.gif

Precipitation:
http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/…/…/enso/elnino/UStrank/ond.gif

So, while mild drought favors more intense red fall leaf colors, warm temperatures have the opposite effect, and can delay the onset of peak colors. However, when I review my notes for past years, I don’t see the peak timing varying by that much. It may be delayed a few days when warm, or advanced when cold, but only by 3-4 days. So generally, the peak occurs nearly the same time each year, which for the Boone area, is mid-October (12th-16th usually), the last week of September or first week of October for the highest elevations on Grandfather Mt. and the last week of October in the Asheville area, which is at an elevation of about 2,400’.

Happy End of August!

Fall Color Report for Week of August 23rd, 2015 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Although it is technically still “summer”, there are signs that the trees are getting ready for fall and winter. Here in the High Country (otherwise known as the Paradise of the East), the dogwoods have already started turning their deep red. The photo attached is of three trees growing across the street from my house. They are among the first trees to turn each year. Some red and sugar maples, which are also early turners, have begun to turn orange-red or yellow, although this is quite sporadic in the forests. I’ve noticed that the same trees always turn color early each year, and so it’s either genetic, or, they are growing in a spot that stresses them and induces early leaf coloration.
Of course, the black locusts are now almost totally defoliated (those are the numerous brown trees you now see lining the highways), but this is due to an insect known as the black locust leaf miner (a mining insect eats out the leaf between the upper and lower surfaces, like a miner tunneling through the soil). It’s a native insect and the trees come back each year without problem. We do have to contend in some areas with the tulip poplar weevil – see my previous posting on that. But it’s not widespread, and shouldn’t be a problem in most areas.

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2015 UPDATES

For the 4th year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, better known as The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing.

 Unlike in 2013 with the record setting rain, and in 2014 with much cooler temperatures, it appears that 2015 is just right. Recently WataugaRoads.com ask Dr. Neufeld about predictions for the upcoming fall season, and his full reply is below.

“As for predictions, at least at this point, I don’t see any weather problems – it’s not too dry or too wet, although it has been hot. The one new development has been the explosion of the population of yellow poplar leaf miners, which have been attacking these trees, turning their leaves a bronze/brown color. This is a native insect and for some reason, especially along the I-40 corridor from Old Fort to Asheville, they are very abundant. It looks like the trees are turning color for the fall there. I confirmed the cause with the US Forest Service, and it’s also widespread, going as far north as West Virginia this year. Otherwise, I don’t see any major flags against having a good fall leaf color season this year.”

Dr.Neufeld shared some thoughts just before previous fall seasons that are still relevant for this, or any, fall season:

As for wet weather, there have been some publications on the impacts of weather on fall color (especially timing, not so much quality). Precipitation has only minor effects on timing in the fall. Temperature is more important. So, at this point, I don’t see anything to make me think that fall colors will be adversely affected, either in timing or quality.

What happens in mid- to late August and in September, temperature-wise, will be more important, especially for quality (notably the intensity of the red colors)”.

People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought.

Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example)”.

2014 UPDATES

November 2, 2014 – With the high winds and snow over the weekend the fall colors are pretty much all gone, and with them this will also conclude updates on this page for the 2014 season. Thanks for taking the time to check out the updates each week and the great feedback that WataugaRoads.com has received.

Last report from the Fall Color Guy on Saturday Nov 1:
“Well, folks, no reports for today! I’m sitting at home looking at the 6” of wet, heavy snow that is still falling here in Boone! Not exactly the ideal conditions to go out and look at fall leaves! I’ll post some photos later today. Amazing weather!

On another note, this essentially ends my fall leaf color forecasts for the mountains of NC for this year. Colors are now off the mountain, and should they survive this snowstorm, should be good at the 2,000′ to 2,500′ level now in places like Chimney Rock State Park, and other locales at that or lower elevations. Colors will now move into the Piedmont areas for the next two weeks.

I may post the occasional blurb for those areas still experiencing good colors, but most will be fairly far away from me, so I won’t be able to provide firsthand knowledge.

It’s been an up and down year – we had really great colors here in the High Country, at least in the Boone/Blowing Rock/Grandfather Mt area, although right at peak color we had several wind and rain storms. But surprisingly, many trees held on to their leaves, and the color season actually was lengthened by delayed leaf fall, something I didn’t expect.

Hope those of you who made it up here had a good experience, and if not, well, there’s always next year!! Cheers!!”

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Photos: Grandfather Mountain

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October 25 – Water flows over the upper falls at Linville Falls en route to the 45-foot plunge. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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Graphic: Brad Panovich – NBC Charlotte
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Photo: Grandfather Mountain

October 24 – A line of colorful maples stands outside the Old Cranberry School in Avery County, N.C., while windswept leaves create patterns along the ground. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Photos: Grandfather Mountain
October 23 – Fall colors envelop a barn on U.S. 221 between Crossnore and Linville Falls in Avery County, N.C. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 22 – The Linville River winds through colorful trees near Erwin’s View Overlook at Linville Falls. (Photo by Skip Sickler) This moderate, 1.6-mile trail offers four overlooks for hikers to enjoy sights of autumn leaves and the falls.

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net
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Photos: Grandfather Mountain

Oct 21 – Fallen leaves gather on a mushroom-ridden log near Grandfather Mountain. (Photo by Skip Sickler) At the highest elevations in western North Carolina, visitors are increasingly finding the most beautifully colored leaves cascading toward the ground.

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Oct 20 – Views of Grandfather Mountain from the Flat Rock Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway prove that fall color is not ready to disappear just yet. (Photo by Skip Sickler) Pockets of autumn color are becoming much more isolated in northwestern North Carolina, so visitors hoping to see the splendor should make haste to the mountains.

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Fall Color Report Update on Saturday October 18, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Here’s my report from my drive today:

Gab and I took a drive all the way down to Maggie Valley, where we chowed down on BBQ at Butts on the Creek before heading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). We took the BRP from there to Asheville, about 71 miles of driving. Prior to that, as we headed along I-40 through the Asheville area down to Exit 20, it was apparent that the trees were still developing their color –we saw a lot of green, although the upper elevations had some color on them. However, this drive never has great color, since it’s lower in elevation than other areas, and there is a preponderance of tulip poplars (yellow/brown) and oaks (brown, burnt yellow, rust red).

On the BRP, which in this section runs above 4,500’ for much of its length, most of the hardwood trees at the highest elevations are already leafless. However, from the many overlooks, you can see more colorful forests about 500’ to 1000’ lower down, and in fact, the best color is found in the mid-elevations, but only sporadically. Some hillsides are bare, or with weak color, while others, probably those that are more protected, have nice color, with a good mixture of reds, yellows and oranges. This part of the mountain chain has more oak-hickory forests than those in the Blowing Rock/Grandfather Mountain area, and hence less spectacular color (much less red). However, the large swaths of yellow, burnt yellow, and even brown, make for a brilliant color display nonetheless, especially when the sun shines on the trees, just minus the reds that you see more often in the Blowing Rock/Grandfather area.

The vistas from this part of the Parkway are among the best anywhere on the road. Although the viaduct by Grandfather is the most popular part of the BRP, the views from the BRP south of Asheville are sweeping in their grandeur, magnificence and extent. At some overlooks, you peer right into the Smokies, with others, south to Whitesides and even into north Georgia. The lack of development in this area provides you with sweeping vistas of what look like endless ranges of mountains and forests. I was most impressed. At milepost 417, you get a striking view of Looking Glass Rock, a large granite extrusion. Either early in the morning or late in the evening are the best times for photographing this volcanic remnant. Anyone ever climb the face? Must be challenging.

Other great viewing and hiking spots on this section of the BRP include Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Fields. At Waterrock, a half a mile to an overlook provides you with vistas of more than 70 miles on a clear day. Graveyard Fields has streams and waterfalls and some really nice hiking at high elevations. Just before this, the road crests at its highest point at 6,053’ above sea level.

This was probably the best weekend to see colors on this section of the BRP. By next weekend, more leaves will be down, although colors may be better below 2,000’ by then. The Smokies are also still approaching their peak, so head on over to Cherokee and take the road up to Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap. You’ll pass through green forests at the bottom, good color at mid-elevations, and then forests past their peak above 3,500’.

I’ll post an album of some shots from my drive today on the BRP. Another good drive is through Brevard into the Pisgah to check out their waterfalls and leaf colors. Should be ok in the next week to the coming weekend.

As for the Blowing Rock/Boone area, high elevations are past peak, but some mid-slopes still have color, although the reds are muted now, and they are mostly yellow/orange now. These colors should persist for at least one more week, but each day sees less and less color now. Better colors are now below 3,000’

That does it for this week! Sunday promises to be sunny with some clouds, but a small chance of a shower (it’s raining lightly as I write this at 10 pm, Saturday). Enjoy!!

Fall Foliage Interactive Map from SmokyMountains.com

Fall Pictures courtesy of Grandfather Mountain
October 18 – Green and gold intermingle on this hillside in Valle Crucis, N.C. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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Fall Color Report Update on Friday October 17, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

In a brief drive around Boone this morning, it is apparent to me that the leaves are now past their peak in this area. This does not mean that a drive on the Parkway is out, only that the best color will most likely be at or below the road itself. The rains and winds have taken down many leaves at higher elevations.

My contact in Asheville reports that color is developing there. Here is his brief statement: “Lot’s of color north of Asheville in Barnardsville/Dillingham area. Looks like color going up the mountains to the Craggies. Peak probably in the next couple of days. In town, there is color, but still a lot of green. Peak will probably be sometime next week or weekend.”

Lastly, I searched for signs of any clouds this morning and guess what – I couldn’t find a single one! All sunshine up here!!

Fall Pictures courtesy of Grandfather Mountain

October 17 – Psychedelic sumac trees line the side of a rural road in Avery County,
N.C. (Photo by Skip Sickler) This beautiful tree, unrelated to poison
sumac, produces a red fruit in late summer similar in shape to the magnolia tree’s fruit.

The abundance of fall color right along the roadside will make driving the
High Country a treat this weekend amid pleasant temperatures and sunshine.

While trees at the upper elevations of the High Country have peaked, lower
elevations and views into the valleys below should offer stunning color
for several more days to come.

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Fall Color Report for Week of October 12, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Well, Mother Nature hasn’t been cooperating lately. Today (Saturday) was quite rainy early on, and very windy at the high elevations. This has caused a lot of leaves to drop off, BUT, there is still great color up here in the High Country. So, don’t be discouraged. If you’re planning a visit, come on up!

Fall leaf colors are peaking right now below 4,500’ down to about 3,000’, which is the elevational range enveloping most of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Above 4,500’ many of the leaves have already fallen. Elsewhere, the colors this year are spectacular. My daughter and I rate the display this year about a 9 out of a scale of 10. The red maples, sourwoods, sugar maples, and blueberries and huckleberries are very showy this year. The reds are especially brilliant, and provide a striking contrast with the yellow and orange colored trees on the landscape. Sassafras are showing bright yellow, orange and red leaves (this is one tree whose leaves can be almost any color), and the witch hazels are now bright yellow with brown streaks along the veins. I found one cottonwood which was a bright yellow also. Birch and tulip poplars are now quite distinctive with their yellow leaves. Fraser magnolias, which have very large and showy leaves displayed in whorls, stand out also. The leaves of this tree first turn yellow and then morph to a deep chocolate brown, providing a strong contrast with the other species that turn the more traditional red, orange and yellow.

The showiest displays right now are around Grandfather Mountain. The western flank, as seen from Rt. 105, is particularly showy, although there are few places to stop and view these forests. The forests on the eastern flank, adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Green Mountain south past the viaduct to Beacon Heights are superb; the best colors in the area so far. As you go north toward Blowing Rock, the colors have yet to peak, although there is good color up to US 321 and then further north to US 421. However, they are not as colorful as the forests down by Grandfather Mt.

Surprisingly, areas below 3,000’ are still approaching their peak colors. Many of us thought that the unusually cool summer would advance the color development this year, but in fact, both here and up and down the east coast, colors are actually behind their normal time schedules. Why this is so, we don’t know. But it does give you more time to view the colors if you haven’t made a trip to do so.

As for the coming week, we will see the colors peak in the Boone/Blowing Rock area, as well as in Cashiers/Highlands as well as along the high elevations of the Parkway from the Smokies to Mt. Mitchell. Next weekend will still have great color in most areas except those above 4,500’. However, the weather people are calling for more rain in the coming week, so best to check ahead for weather conditions before heading out.

Fall Pictures courtesy of Grandfather Mountain

October 16 – Vivid red blueberry bushes, dark green rhododendrons and the oranges and yellows of autumn trees provide a kaleidoscope of color at Beacon Heights off the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 15 – Downstream from the Mill Pond in Banner Elk, runoff from Tuesday’s storms gushes among the still-colorful trees. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 14 – Heavy fog and rain greets visitors to the High Country today, but the autumn colors provide a cheery glow in moments when the veil lifts briefly. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 13 – Water droplets collect along the stems of a burning bush (Euonymus alatus) at Grandfather Mountain. (Photo by Kellen Short) While the bush is considered invasive in some parts of the United States, it’s hard to deny its autumn allure as the dark green leaves turn to vivid red in fall.

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October 12 – A sugar maple shines in glorious gold and green outside the Old Hampton
Store in Linville. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 11 – A deer ambles through the animal habitat at Grandfather Mountain as if
admiring the autumn splendor around her. (Photo by Skip Sickler) In the
High Country, residents are beginning to take note of another color change
that signals the presence of fall: the transition of the deer’s fur from
tan to gray.

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October 10 – While fall color is reaching peak on the high-elevation ridges of
Grandfather Mountain, the lower elevations around Grandfather Lake prove
that they still need several more days to mature. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

The Blue Ridge Parkway remains a beautiful drive this week, with more
change now visible in the Boone area and toward Deep Gap.

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Pictures from Grandfather Mountain

October 9 – Fall colors dance on the edge of the lake at Camp Yonahnoka, just south of
Grandfather Mountain in Linville. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 8 – A bridge over the Boone Fork Creek transports hikers to a wonderland of fall color along the Tanawha Trail outside Linville, N.C. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

This area is accessible from the Boone Fork Parking Area on the Blue Ridge
Parkway (milepost 300) and provides free, easy access to the Tanawha
Trail, Daniel Boone Scout Trail, Nuwati Trail and Cragway Trail on
Grandfather Mountain.

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October 7 – Fall color seeps from the upper reaches of Grandfather Mountain to areas
below to create a picturesque scene in Linville. (Photo by Jim Morton)

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Pictures from Grandfather Mountain
October 6 – The sun rises above the varied yellows, oranges and greens of Rough Ridge, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photo by Skip Sickler)

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October 5 – A hiker gazes at the beauty from Rough Ridge, looking south toward the
Linn Cove Viaduct and the peaks of Grandfather Mountain. (Photo by Skip
Sickler)

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Fall Color Report for Week of October 4, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

I took a drive from Asheville all the way back to Boone on Saturday to personally check out the state of leaf colors. The weather has been excellent recently, and the cold front that moved through over the weekend didn’t take down very many leaves, which bodes well for future color development in the region. For most of the drive (from the Folk Art Center northward) leaves are still approaching peak, even at the highest elevations. Based on the rate of leaf color development, I think that the next two weekends, plus the week in between, will be excellent for taking drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Forests are mostly still green below 3,500’. From this elevation upwards, colors are springing out, although it depends on the slope and aspect. The main trees showing color at intermediate elevations are sourwoods, dogwoods, Virginia creeper vines, and red maples (all peaking now and all deep red in color). Sugar maples are starting to turn orange/yellow and beginning to stand out against the landscape. Birches, tulip poplars and Fraser magnolias (all yellow) are all coming along. At the highest elevations, like at Craggy Gardens, the mountain ash have dropped their leaves, the beeches (yellow) are peaking and in the understory the viburnums are at their peak orange/yellow color.

The drive between Craggy Gardens has some excellent views of fall foliage color. If you drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, you’ll have superb 360 degree views. When I was there yesterday, you could easily see Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south, and Grandfather and Hawksbill Mountains to the north. There were isolated ridges with good color off the summit although most of the slopes were still predominantly green.

Once you get past Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains, the Parkway dips a bit, and colors aren’t near as far along. This stretch is always one the last to develop good fall color. There are good colors again once you reach Linville, which continue all the way north past Blowing Rock and up into Ashe County, north of U.S. 421.

I thought colors were going to peak early this year, and a few trees (mainly the maples and sourwoods) have peaked early. But now I’m going to revise my predictions because I think the majority of trees are coloring up at a normal pace. So, in conclusion, the interval covering the next two weekends should be excellent for viewing fall foliage color here in the southern Appalachians. So if you haven’t yet made it up to the mountains, you still have plenty of opportunities this season. Enjoy!!

Fall Pictures from Grandfather Mountain

October 3 – The crimson leaves of the sourwood tree are among the most showy now
visible in the High Country’s forests. (Photo by Skip Sickler) The species
appears frequently on open slopes and ridges occupied by oaks and pines.

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Pictures from Grandfather Mountain

Many maple trees surrounding Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, N.C., are beginning to shed their leaves, while others are still awaiting the shift to their autumn accoutrements. (Photo by Katie Casella)

Many maple trees surrounding Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, N.C., are beginning to shed their leaves, while others are still awaiting the shift to their autumn accoutrements. (Photo by Katie Casella)

Fall Color Report for Week of September 28, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Leaf color is breaking out all over the High Country this week. I drove up into Ashe County (see my photo album that I posted yesterday) and there was abundant color scattered throughout the hills. However, it’s just starting, so we’re not near the peak yet, but it is on its way. And if I was to guess right today, I’d say the peak might come 3-4 days earlier than usual, which would put the peak around October 8-12, rather than the 12-14th But I won’t know for sure until next weekend (weather is a big factor here!).

On a few hillsides in Ashe County, particularly west of West Jefferson and over toward Todd, some forests were at reaching 40% in color, but most are still around 10-20% turned color. Although a large portion of the forests were coloring up, the intensity of the colors has not reached its maximum yet. So, the dominant color is still green, but now individual trees with good reds and yellows are popping up all over the landscape, at least from 3,300’ and up in elevation.

Those trees with good color this week include flowering dogwoods, red and sugar maples, birches and sourwoods (all turning orange to deep red). A few oaks (particularly scarlet) are starting to redden up also. Tulip poplars are just beginning to show yellow color, while Fraser magnolias and American chestnut saplings are actively turning yellow prior to their shifting over to brown. A variety of goldenrods are providing a nice show of yellow, coupled with a number of different blue and white aster-like plants on the forest floor. And on rock outcrops, the huckleberry bushes and sassafras saplings have turned red.

Colors are slightly more advanced at higher elevations, particularly at Grandfather Mt. It looks like next weekend may be good at higher elevations in the part of the state. It may several days after next weekend before the peak is seen in the Boone/Blowing Rock area at an elevation of 3,300’.

Jonathan Horton, from UNC-Asheville, writes: “I was just up on the parkway south of Asheville yesterday and things are still pretty green from here to Mt. Pisgah. Along the high ridges, though, the sourwoods seem to be peaking. There are some maples and sumac adding color along the parkway, but not a lot of others are changing yet.”

Kathy Mathews, from Western Carolina University, says colors are still mostly green in the Waynesville/Cullowhee/Sylva area, but that individual trees are turning colors, much like in the Boone area.

For those heading to the Smokies, it’s still a little early according to their latest report, but colors will start appearing there soon, especially at the higher elevations, and then move downhill. Check out their report at this website: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm.

Also, don’t forget that you can check the webcams during the day to see how the colors are developing. One link to many webcams in NC is: http://www.highcountrywebcams.com/

Additional fall foliage sites you should consider visiting can be found on my ASU fall color page at: http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/related-links

VisitNC.com gets weekly updates on fall color from NC State Park Rangers, so be sure to check out their website at: http://www.visitnc.com/fall-1.

Fall Pictures from Grandfather Mountain

A stately red maple stands watch over a pasture off the Tanawha Trail near Holloway Mountain Road in Blowing Rock on Wednesday, Oct. 1. (Photo by Katie Casella)
A stately red maple stands watch over a pasture off the Tanawha Trail near Holloway Mountain Road in Blowing Rock on Wednesday, Oct. 1. (Photo by Katie Casella)
Viaduct: Bright yellow goldenrods coordinate pleasantly with the changing leaves near the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, as seen on the evening of Monday, Sept. 29. (Photo by Skip Sickler)
Viaduct: Bright yellow goldenrods coordinate pleasantly with the changing leaves near the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, as seen on the evening of Monday, Sept. 29. (Photo by Skip Sickler)
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Stack Rock Sept 29: The view from Grandfather Mountain’s Linville Peak shows bursts of vibrant color appearing near the Stack Rock Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photo by Monty Combs)
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Sept 29 – Traditionally, the swath of forest northeast of the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an “early bloomer” when it comes to color change, and this year is no exception. (Photo by Kellen Short)
Sept 26, 2014 - Hints of fall color are emerging along the Blue Ridge Parkway, including outside the Jesse Brown Cabin near milepost 273 in E.B. Jeffress Park. During the last several days, more and more trees throughout the higher elevations of the High Country have begun to "pop" with fall color. (Photo by Monty Combs)
Sept 26, 2014 – Hints of fall color are emerging along the Blue Ridge Parkway, including outside the Jesse Brown Cabin near milepost 273 in E.B. Jeffress Park. During the last several days, more and more trees throughout the higher elevations of the High Country have begun to “pop” with fall color. (Photo by Monty Combs)
Sept 27, 2014 - Afternoon sun hitting the western slopes of Grandfather Mountain in Linville shows fall color trickling into western North Carolina. (Photo by Jim Morton)
Sept 27, 2014 – Afternoon sun hitting the western slopes of Grandfather Mountain in Linville shows fall color trickling into western North Carolina. (Photo by Jim Morton)
Sept 28 - A fisherman enjoys the stillness of Price Lake, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, where the water is beginning to reflect the changing leaves of autumn. (Photo by Monty Combs)
Sept 28 – A fisherman enjoys the stillness of Price Lake, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, where the water is beginning to reflect the changing leaves of autumn. (Photo by Monty Combs)

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of September 21, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Leaf Color Report
Fall officially starts on Tuesday, September 22 at 10:49 pm according to the web. Fall leaf color though, has been going on since August, and it will pick up in pace in the next few weeks. The forests are still mostly green, but this is the first week where you can really see color on the landscape, mainly at a few high elevation locations, such as on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain, the higher slopes outside Asheville down to Highlands, and around Mount Mitchell.

Color should pick up each week now, starting at the higher elevations, and working its way downslope. Based on my drives around the High Country, I think we’ll be on near normal schedule for the most part. While I thought back in early September that trees might change early, much of that feeling was based on viewing urban trees, and indeed, many of them are turning earlier than usual. But most of the trees in the forest seem to be on a regular schedule, so if you are planning a visit based on historical times of peak leaf color, I think you will be okay this year. If anything, colors might peak a few days early, but since the displays last several days at a minimum (assuming no severe rain/wind storms at peak color time!), you should be able to find color somewhere here in the mountains, even if you miss it in one particular location.

Down around Cullowhee and Sylva, Kathy Mathews reports: “Things are moving at a typical fall pace here in Cullowhee and Cashiers (elevations 2300 & 3500 ft). There are individual trees fully colored here and there (mainly the occasional sourwood, burning bush, Virginia creeper; many sumacs are actually finished and browning!), and some trees in early stage of reddening (many dogwoods, sourwoods, buckeyes, red maples, sassafras). It’s mostly still green here. I don’t see that leaves are changing any earlier than normal.” So, Kathy confirms what I think – that peak color will arrive near its normal time this fall.

Near Maggie Valley, up at Purchase Knob (just outside Waynesville), Susan Sachs, the Educational Coordinator at the Appalachian Highlands Learning Center, says “Vivid color in a few Red maples and some changes in Yellow Buckeye but not much else. We are having a good nut mast year, which hasn’t been the case for the last few years. We expect the bears and other nut feeders to be fat and happy this winter.”

Jim Costa, Director of Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, reports: “Fall colors are not yet much in evidence in our neck of the woods. There is a hint of color change with dogwoods, sourwoods, for example, but most everything is still green. Except for isolated cases — a branch here and there has turned, and the odd Virginia creeper vine.”

So, color is coming, but we still have a few weeks to go before the really great colors show up here.
In the Town of Boone, as you can see in the photo album following this post, colors are ahead of those in the woods. I think this is because developers have been planting special red maple varieties that have brilliant red fall leaf displays, and if these trees are from northern sources, then it’s logical that they would start turning early here (northern trees planted in southern locales tend to do that). Also, some trees in town may be stressed from soil compaction, salts, trampling, and so on, which may hasten leaf coloration.
If you’re headed to Asheville, be sure to check out their fall color site: http://www.romanticasheville.com/fall.htm.
See you all next week!!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Fall Color Report for Week of September 14, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Leaf Color Report

This week is the first in which I can report the leaves they are a’changing; at least at the highest elevations. As noted by Jesse Pope, in my post yesterday, there is visible leaf color now starting to show up at the highest elevations, around 5, 000’ and on down to around 4,000’. Below 4,000’, most trees are still predominantly green. As noted last week, burning bushes continue to redden ahead of schedule, and more red maples are showing splotches of color. What is unusual about most of these red maples, many of which are varieties of urban trees planted for their fall leaf color display, is the extremely dull red of the leaves so far. Generally, red maples end up a bright red color. Perhaps these dull red leaves will brighten up in the next few weeks, something I will keep an eye on.
There is a beautiful Virginia Creeper vine that totally covers the trunk and branches of a tree, right off US 421 west of Boone. In fact, it’s the banner photo on my academic fall color page (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). What I have noticed is that last Sunday, this vine was essentially all green. Then, beginning on Monday, it began to redden up, and each day it has become more and more red. It is an interesting transition to watch, since I pass by it on the way to and from work. Although I don’t have a record of when it changed last year, it seems to me that this year it is turning early by at least a week or two.

I didn’t get a chance to take photos this week, as I was accompanying my wife to a conference of UNC Hispanic faculty at UNC-Charlotte. Also, I know I haven’t completed my trilogy of tree water relations essays, but will some time later this fall. Something about my day job taking up most of my free time?
So far, contrary to the recent climate outlook, September has not been excessively warm in the High Country. In fact, it was really cool and cloudy today, with temperatures only in the high 50s. If these cool temperatures persist, and we see a little more sun, we should be on track for good fall color.

Fall Color Report for August 31, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

For those who want a short (< 500 words) summary of the state of fall leaf colors here in the mountains of western NC, I will post my observations at the beginning of my report each week. Then, below the report, I will provide an essay on trees that some of you may find interesting. This way, you can get right to the fall color report and not have to wade through my science essays. This past week, the weather has moved back to a more normal pattern for this time of year and we’re back to our usual “dog days” of August. As a result, there is not much to report with respect to fall colors aside from what I wrote last week.

The forests here are still very green. Jesse Pope reports from Grandfather Mountain that: “We do have some more leaf change on red maples, and also just plain leaf loss on them. Many of the maple trees above 4800 ft have already shed 50% of their foliage. Not sure what’s going on there. No other trees are changing drastically yet. The buckeyes are starting to show just a smidge of color but nothing too drastic. I think we are still a couple weeks out from any real noticeable changes here at Grandfather.”

Kathy Mathews, from Western Carolina University, and Jonathan Horton, from UNC-Asheville, also report little progress to date on fall colors around Asheville and Cullowhee. Jonathan did mention yellowing on tulip poplars in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest (a unit of the US Forest Service that has some nice walking and biking trails, and which is adjacent to the NC Arboretum), and he saw some few Virginia creepers turning red.

I think it must be drier at lower elevations, as I also saw many tulip poplars in the Piedmont this weekend with yellow leaves. So, leaf lookers, hang in there. Over the next two weeks, we should begin to see trees turning at the highest elevations (5,000 ft or so) and then watch it progress downwards each week.

Tree Science – How Trees Use Water

Last week I gave a fairly extended explanation of how water moves from the roots of a tree to the leaves and out into the atmosphere. This week, I’d like to explain what physical and biological factors affect the rate at which that water moves through the trees. This will involve some knowledge of fluid dynamics and plant physiology, but hang in there; it’s actually fun to know!

My mantra here is that structure and function are tightly intertwined. That means we have to learn the structure of the cells that transport the water if we want to understand why they function like they do. The cells that conduct water in plants are known as xylem cells and we’re all familiar with them –tree xylem, for example, is wood! Interestingly, xylem cells are dead at maturity, and this contributes to their efficiency. Being dead, they have no cellular contents and are essentially just hollow structures with walls made out of cellulose and lignin, the two main components of wood. The walls provide rigidity to the cells and contribute to the ability of trees to grow to great heights without crushing themselves. The lack of cell contents allows these cells to conduct water with high efficiency.

Conifers, which evolved prior to the emergence of angiosperms (the flowering plants), contain a primitive type of xylem cell called a tracheid. Tracheids are long, narrow, and hollow cells, ranging 10-30 um in diameter). Figure 1 shows a typical tracheid. They also have end walls. For water to move from cell to cell, it has to pass through small openings in the wall, called pit pores (see Figure 2). As we will see below, the presence of end walls and having to move through the pits present obstacles to the movement of water for these types of plants.

Angiosperms, on the other hand, in addition to tracheids, contain a more recently evolved xylem cell called a vessel element (see Figure 1 again). These cells are much wider (100 up to 800 um diameter), shorter, and often have no cell walls on either end. Vessel elements also contain pits and water can not only move through the vessel element, but can cross over to other vessel elements through the pits.

Vessel elements can be stacked together to form what we call “vessels”. An analogy would be if you stacked toilet paper tubes one on top of the other. Each tube would be a vessel element and the set of joined tubes a vessel. A vessel is bounded on either end by vessel elements that do have a porous end wall. Such walls may act to restrict the movement of air bubbles in the xylem. Some vessels are just two or three cells long, whereas in some tree species, such as ash trees, they can be 10 m long! The evolution of vessel elements probably contributed to the ability of flowering plants to dominant certain landscapes, as we’ll discuss below.

At this point, we know something about the anatomy of these xylem cells, but how does their anatomy affect the movement of water through them? For that, we turn to the engineering field of fluid dynamics. Luckily, we can handle this type of engineering verbally and without formal mathematical equations (although I’ll show an equation to you anyway, for those of you who like math).

If you’ve ever been to a fast food restaurant, you’ve probably seen those small stir straws. Few of you would want to use those straws in your drink, because you know that it would be hard to suck the drink up the straw. In contrast, if you had a regular straw, with its much larger diameter, it would be much easier to get the drink into your mouth. Why is that?

Well, we need to know two things about how water flows in tubes before we can figure this out. First, water along the sides of the straw will rub against the walls, creating friction, and that will slow these water molecules down compared to those in the center of the straw. Second, water in the middle of the straw is drawn up the straw by the vacuum applied when you suck on the straw, and the entire column of water moves because of cohesion with other water molecules.

Now, that single layer of water at the straw’s edge that is moving slower will slow down the next layer inward of water because of shear, which is what happens when one layer of water rubs against another. That layer will interact with the next most layer, and slightly slow it down too. However, because water is somewhat slippery the frictional resistance of one layer of water against another is much smaller than that with the walls of the straw and as one moves to the center of the straw, these effects are drastically reduced. As a result, water moves faster at the center of a tube than at the edges. See Figure 3, which shows the velocity of water as a function of the distance from the side of a tube.

If you have a very narrow tube, a greater percentage of all the water in the tube will be interacting with the sides and as a result, more of the water in the straw will be moving slowly. Going back to the straw analogy, it means you will have to suck much harder to get the same flow rate in a narrow straw as compared to a wide straw, since you have to overcome more frictional resistance. Therefore, to get the same flow rate in a narrow tube as in a large one, you have to exert a greater tension (or pressure if you’re pushing the water). In fact, from a fluid dynamics point of view, if you keep the pressure constant, but decrease the radius of a tube by half, you reduce the flow by 16 times! Conversely, if you double the radius, flow increases by 16 times! Mathematically, we’re saying that the flow of water is proportional the radius raised to the fourth power: F α r^4. This means that doubling the radius is the same as raising two to the fourth power (2^4 = 16). Note: ^ means raise to this power.

For a tree, this has enormous consequences. It means that at any given tension in the xylem, it will be the larger diameter xylem cells that are conducting most of the water. If you compare tracheids to vessel elements, the implications are obvious: flowering plants (the only ones to have evolved vessel elements) will have a much greater capacity to move water (at equivalent tensions) than will conifers and ferns, which have only the much narrower tracheids. In fact, the fastest sap in the world has been found in the kiwi vine, which has vessel elements nearly 800 um wide (or 0.8 mm). This down-under vine can have rates of flow exceeding 20 mm/s (>50 m/h or 164 ft/h). In fact, kiwi vines have the fastest sap in the west (and north, and south, and east!). In deciduous trees, whose xylem diameters are usually less than 500 mm, and often between 100 and 400 um, rates of flow are slightly lower (25 to 40 m/h or 82 to 131 ft/h).

In contrast, conifers and ferns, with their more primitive and narrower tracheids, cannot move water nearly as fast. Rates of movement in pine trees, for example, are only around 1 mm/s (~6 m/h or ~20 ft/h). Why are sap velocities so much higher in vines and deciduous trees? Well, remember, vessel elements are much wider than tracheids, and a much smaller percentage of the water is in contact with the walls. This means the water can flow more freely, and less tension is needed to move large volumes up the plant. Also, the lack of end walls further reduces the tortuosity of the pathway (how contorted a path the liquid must traverse), and instead of having to move primarily through pits, as water must do in tracheids, it can flow freely down the wide, hollow vessels.

Mathematical Diversion for the Adventurist:

You can confirm mathematically why water flows faster through vessels than tracheids if you remember your geometry. For a cell with a radius of r, the circumference (which you can consider the single layer of water touching the walls), will be: C = 2πr. For a tracheid that has an r=10 um, C = 63 um. The volume of water in a cell can be approximated by the cross-sectional area (A) of the cell, and the formula for that is A=πr^2. For this cell, A=314 um^2. If you have a vessel element with r=125 um, C = 785 um and A=49,807 um^2. Now, take the ratio of A to C for both cells to get an idea of how much water is in the cell compared to how much is interacting with the walls. For the tracheid, the ratio is 314/63 = ~5. For the vessel element, it is 49,807/785 = ~63. Thus you can see that there is about 12 times more “free” water in a vessel element than in a tracheid, which is why water can flow faster in a wider tube (i.e., cell!).

The large frictional resistance in tracheids greatly slows down the velocity of the sap in ferns and conifers. This means that in response to a large transpirational demand (i.e., a lot of dry air out there), angiosperms will be able to transport water more easily and faster to the leaves than will conifers. Also, when water is plentiful, angiosperms will have the luxury of being able to open their stomata to take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and not have to “worry” about all the water that is being lost via transpiration in that process. If a conifer did this, the loss of water from the needles would exceed the capacity of the xylem to replace the water lost via transpiration, and the tree would dry out. Of course, this is a greatly simplified explanation, but the you get the general idea of how wood anatomy can determine how trees move water in their trunks.

Figures from: http://plantsstructureandreproduction77.wikispaces.com/structure2 and pits in the walls of a softwood tracheid (hollow fibre). in Keey et al. 2000. Left most: tracheids and vessels; middel: how water moves up a tree; Right most: pits in a conifer tracheid.

Next week : What happens to a tree if it gets drought stressed? Is there a trade-off between xylem efficiency and safety? How does evolution solve such a dilemma?

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Fall Color Report for Week of August 24, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

Sometimes nothing happens of much note from one week to the next. That’s the story line for this week’s fall leaf color report. Another word I might use to describe fall leaf color for this week would be “ibid”, which according to the English Oxford Dictionary, means “In the same source (used to save space in textual references to a quoted work that has been mentioned in a previous reference).” In other words, you could read last week’s report and that would fill you in on this week!

Of course, time does march on (I wonder how many clichés I can fit into one essay?) and some things did change. The red and sugar maples that were turning last week continue to do so this week and many of them are now predominantly red/orange rather than green. A few trees are even nearly defoliated already! I think the phenology researchers should pay more attention to what is happening this summer and refine their models, which have given June and July temperatures little impact on the timing of fall leaf color. Perhaps these months are more important than we have realized! Yet, despite these unusual early turning trees, the rest of the forests around here are still quite green this week.

Last week I said I would fill you in on some interesting aspects of tree water relations. So, here goes. You only need to know some anatomy, fluid dynamics, physics, mechanical engineering, biomechanics, natural selection, and the concept of an evolutionarily stable strategy! But luckily, you do not need to know any rocket science, so this should be a breeze to understand.

First off, trees do not “push” water to the tops of their crowns. If that were so, water would shoot out of the trunk if you cut into one, just as if you had nicked a garden hose with the water turned on. But as loggers will attest, this does not happen in a healthy tree. Furthermore, since water is essentially incompressible, the trunk of a tree would expand as each individual xylem cell (the wood that conducts water up a tree) bulged outward from the pressure. But when we measure trees that are actively transpiring they actually shrink instead! That suggests they are under tension (negative pressure); and if that is true, then trees must be pulling, not pushing, water up their trunks. One way to think about this is to imagine stretching a rubber band, which puts it under tension. As it gets longer from the tension, it also gets thinner. The same can be said for water under tension: it stretches and the water column gets thinner, causing the tree trunk, in turn, to shrink.

But for those of you who lived or still live on farms and remember pumping water up by hand, the deepest well you could have was just 10 m, or ~33’. If it was any deeper, the weight of the water column would be so great that it would break. But if that is so, then how do trees like redwoods and eucalyptus, which can be more than 100 m tall (up to 370’), pull water up up to the tops of their crowns, which are much higher than 10 m?

The answer lies in the fact that if you transport water in wood composed of billions of very small diameter cells (known as tracheids in conifers, vessel elements in angiosperms) then you can support a column of water under tension (negative pressure) to a very great height! Tracheid diameters can range from 20-80 microns (0.0009”) while the largest vessel elements (which occur in vines) can approach 500 microns (or nearly 0.02”). To test whether cells of these diameters can support a column of water more than 100 m high, scientists have induced high tensions in water filled glass capillaries (with tube diameters equivalent to that of xylem cells) and also in detached branches from trees with a continuous column of water in their wood, by spinning them in centrifuges. The results of these studies show that water is more than able to maintain a continuous column, under tension in the xylem, for lengths longer than that of even the tallest trees.

The other properties that are important for moving water in plants involve what are known as the colligative properties of water. For example, water is attracted to other materials by the process of adhesion (which is why water will wick up a paper towel) and also to other water molecules by cohesion (which is why you can suck water up a straw). In very narrow conduits, like xylem cells, the upward-pulling forces of adhesion and cohesion exceed that of the downward gravitational forces. This means that not only can a tree maintain a continuous column of water from the roots to the leaves, but it can transport that water upward nearly 400’ against the downward gravitational force.

But what forces are actually responsible for making the water move upwards? To understand this part of the process requires knowing what happens when a water molecule evaporates from the leaf. As a water molecule goes from the liquid state (as it is in the xylem) to the gaseous state (or vapor phase) when it evaporates into the atmosphere, the surface tension at the air-water interface in the leaf is disrupted by the loss of that molecule, which results in an unstable energy state. To regain the more stable energy state, a water molecule in the liquid column must move in to replace the one that left, and every time that happens, it pulls other water molecules up the water column by cohesion. Now, multiply this by the trillions of water molecules leaving a leaf every minute, and cohesive forces acting on the entire water column in the trunk, and you get a lot of water moving up that tree in a continuous column. In fact, a large tree can transpire over 100 gals of water (378 liters) per day!

What is truly amazing about this process is that it requires no metabolic energy on the part of the plant. Tracheids and vessel elements, for example, are dead, hollow, cells at maturity. Paul Kramer, a famous plant physiologist from Duke University, showed that a plant with dead roots (killed by hot water) could move water up its stem as long as its xylem was not clogged by debris.

But for water to move from root to leaf to atmosphere (through what we call the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere-Continuum, or SPAC), energy must be expended, and forces must act on the water. When forces cause something to move, that is, in physics terms, “work”. In formal terms, Work = Force x Distance. Given that trees can move water 100 m against the force of gravity, they must be doing a lot of work!

So how do trees do this work without expending their own energy? In the simplest of terms, it is the sun that provides that energy, by heating the air and drying it out. Inside a leaf, the relative humidity of the air is ~100%, but rarely is the air that wet in the atmosphere outside the leaf (unless you live in New Orleans!). That means there is almost always a gradient in the concentration of water from the leaf to the air, and water will always diffuse passively (that is, spontaneously) down that gradient. Thus, as long as the concentration of water is higher in the leaf than outside the leaf, water will evaporate from it. In reality, trees are like giant wicks inserted in the ground, moving water out of the soil and up the their trunks, against the force of gravity, by using the drying power of the air, whereupon the water is released into the atmosphere.

Now, if a large tree transpires 100 gals of water a day, it must be moving that water very rapidly and efficiently. To understand how that is accomplished, see next week’s leaf color report. That is the part of the story for which you will need to understand fluid dynamics and mechanical engineering. But no worry! I will explain it in such a way that everyone will understand how trees (and in fact, all vascular plants) move water through xylem cells with very small diameters. If you have ever watered plants with a hose and put your finger over the end to make the water shoot further out at a higher velocity, then you know all that’s required to understand the hydraulics of trees! And I promise – no calculus required!

Next week: further reports on fall leaf color and part two of our essay on tree water relations. This one will be on the trade-offs between moving water at high velocities through the xylem and withstanding drought stress; or in evolutionary terms, why there is no free lunch when it comes to tree water relations (cliché again!).

Fall Color Report for Week of August 17, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors:

I’m sorry I didn’t have any tree photos last week. Your intrepid reporter was laid low by a recalcitrant kidney stone, which was surgically removed this past Tuesday. He’s feeling much better now and today when out and about looking for iconic photos of trees. See the photo album that I will upload after this post.

It is an understatement to say that this has been a relatively cool summer. Using the metric of daily mean temperature, this July was the coldest since the Boone station began keeping records 34 years ago, and in Jefferson, which has 82 years of records, it was the 3rd coolest July. For the state as a whole, it was the 11th coolest in the last 120 years! The NC State Climate Office reports that this is due primarily to lower maximum temperatures and not unusually low minimum temperatures at night. However, here in the mountains, we did get into the high 40s for a few days in July.

The cool temperatures may have resulted from a polar vortex phenomenon that causes the jet stream, which tends to separate warm from cool air, to dip lower into the United States. Some feel that as the Polar Regions continue to warm rapidly (more so than in the tropics), that this will cause greater instability in the path of the jet stream, and could, paradoxically, lead to more instances of cooling in this region. I know this may give climate change deniers ammunition to continue their campaign to discredit those who have documented significant human-induced climate change, but in reality, it simply shows off their ignorance of weather and climate science. Just remember, even though locally we’re having a cool summer, globally, temperatures worldwide continue to rise. Last year tied with 2003 as the fourth warmest on record, and 13 of the last 14 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000!

Will the cool July affect the timing of autumnal leaf colors, or the quality? No one knows for sure. August is continuing on a mild streak right now, and it’s an important month for prepping the trees for fall color. When August and September are cool and sunny, we get our best leaf colors.

This week I am seeing some prominent coloring on dogwoods, red and sugar maples and on burning bushes; the dogwood in my yard is starting to show some red color, as are the ones across the street from me in the cow pasture. The maples I mentioned last week continue to turn as do isolated ones in the woods. But the majority of trees are still quite green now, as they should be. I have uploaded an album of some pictures I took this Sunday of trees turning color in the Boone area. This phenomenon has been noticed by others as far north as Pittsburgh, NY and Canada. They too had very cool July’s and people are reporting trees turning color several weeks earlier than usual. Others are documenting a failure of tomatoes to ripen on time. This may turn out to be one of our more unusual and interesting autumns.

Last week I said I would tell you why some black locust trees are turning brown. There is a native insect, called the locust leaf miner (Odontota dorsalis), which is a type of beetle, and whose larvae attack the leaves and eat them from the inside out, causing them to turn brown and then drop off prematurely. They usually peak in activity in late July and August which is why there are so many brown locust trees right now. However, it’s my opinion that the incidence is much less this year; perhaps the frost in late April that we had here killed some of the insects, or the cold is reducing their impact. I took some pictures of damaged locust leaves, and also of the mature insects sitting on them and they are in the album of tree pictures mentioned above.

Black locust is an interesting tree species because it can fix nitrogen out of the air through nodules on their roots that contain Rhizobia, a bacterial genus that does the actual fixing. This mutualistic relationship is based on the fact that the bacteria get carbohydrates from the plant while the plant gets nitrogen from the bacteria. This process can enrich the soil in nitrogen, because when the roots die and decay, or when leaves fall to the ground, they are enriched in nitrogen and make it more fertile.

Black locust trees are indigenous to the southern Appalachians, but have been planted outside their native range in both North America and Europe, where they are now one of the most invasive trees species known. Cameron Houser, an Appalachian State University Biology graduate student, just completed her Master’s thesis on this species. She showed that when it invades areas outside its native range, it substantially increases the nitrogen content of forest soils compared to adjacent forests where locust trees are absent. Such enrichment may greatly alter ecosystem nutrient cycling processes, as well as have consequences for the species composition of these invaded forests. That a native tree species can be invasive in its own continent is unusual, since we usually think of most invasives as alien species that are come over from either Asia or Europe.

Next week: further reports on leaf color and some thoughts on tree water relations.

Photos: Dr. Howard Neufeld

Red Maple at intersection of King and Poplar Grove Road showing reddening of upper and outer leaves.

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Closeup of leaves turning red.

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Tree adjacent to Galileo Bar and Grill parking lot that has completely turned red in the upper portion of the crown by August 17, 2014. See how the lower leaves are still totally green while the upper crown is totally red.

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Sugar maple leaves turning yellow-orange on King Street across from Galileo’s Bar and Grill, Aug 17, 2014.

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Here is that red tree at Galileo’s again, with a neighboring tree that is still mostly green. Strange!

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Black locust leaves behind Broyhill Center on campus of Appalachian State University showing leaf miner damage, Aug 17, 2014.

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These are the locust leaf miner adult beetles. Notice how they have damaged the leaves.

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Sugar maple turning early on Bodenheimer Drive right next to entrance to parking lot by Chancellor’s home on the campus of Appalachian State University, Aug 17, 2014.

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Report for Week of August 10, 2014 from The Fall Color Guy. Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors.

“Well, after a restful winter/spring, and with summer starting to fade, it’s time to renew our weekly fall leaf color reports. I hope everyone had a good off-season and that you’re ready for our autumnal displays this year. So, what’s the situation this week, and what does that portend for the fall?

This summer started off fairly dry and we were actually in a low level drought until some rains came later in July. You may also remember just how cool July was (I’m checking to see if it was a record cool) and some people wrote me asking what that meant for fall colors (I don’t think too much). Already, you can see scattered color developing, particularly on red and sugar maples. There’s even one red maple on the east side of US 321 between Patterson and Blowing Rock that is at peak (I repeat, peak!) color for reasons not are not clear to me. Other maples are showing significant coloring, especially along Rivers Street in Boone, but also at other locations in Watauga County. Some of the horticultural red maple varieties are starting to turn red on the outer portions of their crowns, and these usually turn much later in the year.

It’s not clear why these trees turn so early. The trees along Rivers Street color up every year around this time, yet the majority of the trees in the forest still peak at our usual time, which for Boone is mid-October. It is possible that when trees are stressed, such as by salt from the DOT during the winter, or by being planted in compacted soils, that they turn early. I don’t think the fact that these trees are turning early suggests that fall colors will come early this year. That depends more on what the weather conditions will be like for the rest of August and through September.

If the weather turns sunny and cool in August and September, colors should arrive on time and be vibrant, with bright reds contrasted against oranges and yellows. If it is rainy and warm, peak colors may be delayed and subdued.

Final thoughts: some recent scientific papers studying the timing of autumnal colors suggest that temperatures, especially in the fall, are the most correlated with the timing of colors. Warm falls delay the colors, cool ones accelerate them. Rainfall has much less of an effect on timing. Since we aren’t in a major drought, which can cause the leaves to fall prematurely, we still have the potential for an excellent fall leaf color season here in the southern Appalachians.

Next week: why the black locust trees are turning brown.”

August 6, 2014 – The summer of 2014 will be remembered more for cooler temperatures that the record setting rains in 2013. Attention is turning quickly toward fall and what might it bring.

Dr. Howard Neufeld is not only Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, but he is also known as The Fall Color Guy. For the third year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with “The Fall Color Guy” to provide information as the colors start changing.

WataugaRoads.com ask Dr. Neufeld what we might see with fall colors this year due to the more cooler temperatures instead of all the rain received last summer.

Dr.Neufeld replied:

“As for the wet weather, there have been some publications since last year on the impacts of weather on fall color (especially timing, not so much quality). Precipitation has only minor effects on timing in the fall. Temperature is more important. So, at this point, I don’t see anything to make me think that fall colors will be adversely affected, either in timing or quality.

What happens in mid- to late August and in September, temperature-wise, will be more important, especially for quality (notably the intensity of the red colors)”.

Dr.Neufeld shared some thoughts just before fall season of 2013 that are still relevant this upcoming season:

“1. People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

2. Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought.

3. Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

4. A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

5. Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example)”.

Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

An early look at some trees starting to change on the ASU campus on August 6, 2014. Photos: Kara Harmon

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*article from NOAA*
Cool Autumn Weather Reveals Nature’s True Hues

A favorite American pastime in fall is to pack a picnic basket and set off with loved ones on a Sunday drive along one of the nation’s many scenic byways. It’s a time of year when people enjoy crisp cool weather and marvel at the transforming landscape as tree leaves turn from lush green to gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, red, purple and brown.

While we relish the opportunity to frolic in a big pile of freshly raked leaves, we don’t often think about the science behind why leaves change color and eventually fall from their branches. The answer may surprise you!

Recipe for Fabulous Foliage: Cool Nights and Sunny Days

Weather factors such as temperature, sunlight, precipitation and soil moisture influence fall color arrival, duration and vibrancy. According to United States National Arboretum, a wet growing season followed by a dry autumn filled with sunny days and cool, frostless nights results in the brightest palette of fall colors. Changes in weather can speed up, slow down or change the arrival time of fall’s colorful foliage. For example:

Drought conditions during late summer and early fall can trigger an early “shutdown” of trees as they prepare for winter. This causes leaves to fall early from trees without reaching their full color potential.
Freezing temperatures and hard frosts can kill the processes within a leaf and lead to poor fall color and an early separation from a tree.

True Colors Come From Inside
Trees actually begin to show their true colors in autumn, and here’s why.

The four primary pigments that produce color within a leaf are: chlorophyll (green); xanthophylls (yellow); carotenoids (orange); and anthocyanins (reds and purples). During the warmer growing seasons, leaves produce chlorophyll to help plants create energy from light. The green pigment becomes dominant and masks the other pigments.

Trees must replenish the chlorophyll because sunlight causes it to fade over time. As days get shorter and nights become longer, trees prepare for winter and the next growing season by blocking off flow to and from a leaf’s stem. This process stops green chlorophyll from being replenished and causes the leaf’s green color to fade.

The fading green allows a leaf’s true colors to emerge, producing the dazzling array of orange, yellow, red and purple pigments we refer to as fall foliage.

Following the Feast of Fall Colors

Fall’s color “parade” varies from region to region and year to year, depending on weather conditions. For areas under calm and dry high pressure, cool nights and sunny days can lengthen fall color displays. Cold or warm fronts can produce strong winds and heavy rain that cause leaves to fall off trees more rapidly.

2014 UPDATES

For the third year in a row WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with Dr. Howard Neufeld to provide information as the colors start changing. Dr. Neufeld is Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University and known as The Fall Color Guy.

You can find more information from The Fall Color Guy at the following links:

http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/fall-color-report-week-september-10-2012

http://www.fallcolorguy.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967

2013 UPDATES

November 13, 2013 – Since the leaf peak season has passed this is the final report on conditions for the High Country on this page.

November 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 26, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 23, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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Autumn Color viewed from space Sunday October 20 in Western NC via the Modis Visible Satellite image. Image courtesy of Brad Panovich

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October 19, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 16, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of October 13, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

“This week, plus the coming weekend, should be our peak fall leaf color times here in the Boone/Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas. A drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway will present excellent viewing, especially at 3,000’ and up. Colors are still developing at lower elevations, and won’t peak for another week or so, but the views should be great nonetheless. Sugar maples are really gearing up now. In Boone, along King Street, and also on the Blowing Rock Highway, there are several large sugar maples that just explode in yellow-orange brilliance at this time, and you can see them this week if you come up. Red maples are having a great year, and many are now peaking in the Boone area. A lot of yellow color is coming through now as the birches, beeches, tulip poplars, hickories and magnolias begin to show. Some of the oaks are also starting to color up, and the red, scarlet and black oaks will be the last major bursts of color on the landscape.

Kathy Mathews says that “we will reach “peak” by next weekend [in the Cullowhee/Sylva area]. A lot of trees are dropping their leaves,” and she says “it would be best to advise tourists to come up next weekend, I think. She says she’s “astonished we haven’t had a frost yet to bring on a real peak of simultaneous color! A frost may not happen until the end of the month, but many trees will be finished by then.” Kathy then drove “over the mountains on Hwy 64 south to Clay County this weekend, between Franklin and Hayesville, and the pass where the AT crosses highway 64 near the Standing Indian Recreation Area is just gorgeous now. That area is in true peak, with lots of bright colors.”

Jonathan Horton reports that Asheville is still predominantly green, but there is color on the surrounding hills. Oaks and hickories are coloring up and adding to the other trees that already show color (maples, sourwoods, dogwoods). Later today I’ll have a report from the Cashiers/Highlands area. The government shutdown is preventing me from reporting about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but my intuition says the high elevations are peaking now, so this weekend should also be good for a drive up to Newfound Gap. Cades Cove will most likely peak later as it’s at low elevation in the Park.

We’ve had very moderate temperatures these last few weeks, even excessively warm the prior week. I think that delayed the progression of color development by several days as the peak is yet to appear here in the Boone area, and the average date of appearance is between the 10th and 14th of October. Also, as Kathy Mathews from WCU points out, we have not had a hard frost yet, which can synchronize leaf colors somewhat (it can also speed up leaf loss too). We did get down to 34oF a few mornings ago, and I’m sure it went below freezing at the higher elevations like Banner Elk. But the long-range forecast shows temperatures above 40oF for the next week or so. There is a front moving in, and there could be rain late Wednesday and some of Thursday, and even a chance this coming weekend (sorry, I can’t do anything about Mother Nature!). But nothing too major (and no severe winds) so come on up and enjoy the best show nature ever devised!”

October 12, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 10 from Brad Panovich WCNC TV Charlotte

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October 9, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 5, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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October 2, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of September 29, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

“This is the first weekend of autumn and also the first time I can report that fall leaf color in the mountains is beginning to show in earnest, especially above 4,000’ elevation. Check out the photo attached which I took at Tynecastle, at the intersection of Rts. 105 and 184, near Banner Elk, and just west of Grandfather Mountain State Park. The sugar and red maples are coming out and should peak at the higher elevations by next weekend. American ash is turning also (a dull purplish color), and the mountain ash fruits are like red beacons against the background of spruce and still green oaks. They are quite spectacular this year, perhaps a result of all that rain earlier in the summer (Grandfather Mountain, for example, received 29” of rain in July alone!). There are four species of maples on Grandfather Mountain (red, sugar, striped, and mountain) which turn varying shades of orange and red (often both), although striped maple is unique in that its large leaves only turn a brilliant yellow only.

You may also see the evergreen rhododendrons (R. maximum and R. catawbiense) dropping their older leaves now. That is normal at this time of year, and you can tell which is which by the color: the senescent leaves of R. maximum are yellow while those of R. catawbiense have a reddish hue to them. Also, the leaves of R. maximum are longer while the other species has shorter, more oval leaves. Sassafras is also turning, and you can find leaves ranging from dark green, to yellow, to orange to red, all on the same tree! Huckleberry bushes are now peaking and have a deep burgundy color. There is a good display of these shrubs on the rock outcrops on Beacon Hill, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Grandfather Mountain. Finally, you may have seen tree trunks covered in a deep red vine (note the picture at the top of my academic fall color page (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). This is Virginia creeper, and it’s peaking now throughout the High Country.

Down by Cullowhee and Sylva, Kathy Mathews reports that she is seeing “many trees and shrubs turning yellow (tulip poplar, cherry, birch, walnut) and red (dogwoods, sourwoods, red maple, burning bush, etc.), but the chlorophyll is still present as well, so the red colors are looking somewhat dull.” She feels that their peak is still several weeks away.

Based on the rate of development of leaf color, I think visitors will enjoy peak colors by next weekend at the higher elevations, especially on the slopes of Grandfather (and particularly on the east-facing slopes), at the higher elevations in Elk Knob State Park just north of Boone and on Roan Mountain on the border of NC and TN and finally, in the Smokies, also at the higher elevations. Colors won’t be at their peak in Boone and Highlands until the weekend after next. One positive thing going for us is that the weather for this coming week is forecast to be sunny and cool, which is perfect for color development.”

September 28, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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September 26, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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September 21, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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Fall Leaf Color Report for Week of September 16, 2013 from The Fall Color Guy (Dr. Howie Neufeld). Check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors

“The forecast for this week is, in a nutshell, the same as last week: Green! Trees in the High Country still have most of their leaves, and there is isn’t much to report right now. Yellow buckeyes are about the only tree species to show a significant change: most have started losing their leaves (remember, these trees are early to leaf out, and early to lose them in the fall – the botanical equivalent of early to bed, early to rise!). However, they also get a leaf fungal disease, so their leaves do not provide much color. Dogwoods and burning bushes are coming along and increasing in color each week, and the occasional sugar or red maple have some orange/red leaves. Otherwise, as I stated above, the word is still GREEN.

The long-range forecast for the southeastern portion of the country, including the southern Appalachians, is for above-normal amounts of precipitation. That doesn’t bode well for great fall leaf color, because sunny and cool conditions are what lead to good fall leaf color. But so far the weather has been near perfect for good fall color, so let’s hope that we don’t get too much rain in the next few weeks. If not, we should have a great fall color season this year!

As I was driving back from a short visit to the coast on Sunday, I was thinking of how green the mountains looked as I headed up US 421 into Watauga County. That started me thinking of all things green: How Green Was My Valley, the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence, and It Isn’t Easy Being Green (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51BQfPeSK8k, with Kermit the Frog). What phrases can you think of that relate to “green”?

Have a great week! Don’t forget, you can check out essays on the science of fall color at my other fall color site, as well as a list of what colors each tree turns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51BQfPeSK8k”

Map conceived by Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow, constructed by Michael Denslow

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September 14, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network
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September 7, 2013. Graphics from The Foliage Network

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The summer of 2013 will go down as the wettest on record for the area, and for many residents it will go down as one that was not a summer at all. Attention is turning quickly toward fall and what might it bring.

Dr. Howard Neufeld is not only Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, but he is also known as The Fall Color Guy. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism each fall, in 2012 he allowed WataugaRoads.com to share his insight and information.

Once again in 2013 WataugaRoads.com is teaming up with The Fall Color Guy to provide information as the colors start changing. On Monday of this week (July 29, 2013) WataugaRoads.com asked the question about what we might see with fall colors this year due to the amount of rain received.

Dr.Neufeld replied:

“1. People think fall colors are good when they last a long time, and have plenty of brilliant reds interspersed with the oranges and yellows. So, the quality will depend on how much “redness” we have this fall.

2. Trees tend to make more red colors (anthocyanins) in the fall when it’s cool and sunny, and if we have a slight but not severe drought. This year, cloudy, rainy, no drought!

3. Sunny days means more photosynthesis, and more sugars produced in the leaves, and sugars induce anthocyanin production.

4. A slight drought impairs uptake of nitrogen (we think) and some experiments suggest that plants low on N make more anthocyanins.

5. If it is rainy, then there is less photosynthesis, fewer sugars, and more nitrogen uptake (soils are wetter for longer), and hence, trees may make fewer anthocyanins.

6. So, if the weather keeps consistent, we may see duller red colors this fall. The oranges and yellows should be as usual, as they do not depend as much on light or drought.

7. How long the fall color will last is another thing, and also, it is unknown if a wet summer will change the timing of fall colors.

8. Usually, fall colors peak around Oct 11-14 in the Boone area; sooner by a few days up to a week at higher elevations, later at lower ones. Nice colors can stick around for a week or more, although the peak usually comes and goes in just a few days, weather permitting (no high winds for example).

9. If the wet conditions extend the growing season, then the initiation of fall colors might be delayed by several days, or, if trees decide that they’ve got all they need for this season, they may initiate fall colors early instead. We just don’t know at this point. It will also depend on what the weather does in late August through September.”

Scroll below for a look at what happened in 2012. Also check out The Fall Color Guy on Facebook and at his ASU page where you can also read about the science of fall colors.

Aug 20, 2013 on ASU campus. Photo: Kara Harmon
Aug 20 _ Kara Harmon

Aug 6, 2013. Photo: Kenneth Reece

Leaves Aug 6, 2013 (1)

Leaves Aug 6, 2013 (2)

On Tuesday July 30, 2013 Anita Presnell shared these photos of some early changes from Valle Crucis Park.

Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.
Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.
Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.
Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.
Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.
Photos by Anita Presnell from Valle Crucis Park on Tuesday July 30,2013.

2012

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

Fall Color Report for Week of October 29

In the years that I have been reporting on fall color, I have rarely had to contend with hurricane-induced snow storms, but that is what is forecast for this week as Hurricane Sandy moves up the east coast this week and combines with a cold front coming in from the upper Midwest. According to the latest weather reports, significant accumulations of snow are expected for the southern Appalachians in North Carolina, all the way down to Asheville. Some 15” of snow may fall at the highest elevations, with 6” expected for Boone coupled with high winds gusting over 60 mph. If that doesn’t take down the last of the leaves, nothing will! Needless to say, the first half of this week will not be a good time to head to the mountains to view what remains of the fall color.

Conditions are supposed to ameliorate by Thursday this week, but the high winds will have removed the last vestige of fall color at the high elevations. Already, prior to this storm, most of the leaves have already fallen from elevations above 2,500’. What remains of fall color viewing has now moved to the lower elevations and the foothills. A few oaks and beeches are clinging to their burgundy red or chocolate brown leaves (but only a few). These species tend to hold on to their leaves longer than most others. Overall, this was a relatively short fall color season at higher elevations (and somewhat duller in color) compared to some in the past. Colors at lower elevations in some locations were better than they were at higher elevations.

Jonathan Horton, in Asheville, reports that colors look good around Marion, Morgantown and Old Fort, but the storm this week may take down most of those leaves. Matt Popowski reports that colors (prior to the big storm) were coming on well in Chimney Rock State Park, southeast of Asheville and near Lake Lure. He writes: “The higher elevations of Chimney Rock and Lake Lure have exploded with vibrant leaf colors, displaying remarkable color around the Chimney level. Hiking the Skyline trail from the Chimney to Exclamation Point is quite spectacular! Golden yellows have appeared in our buckeyes, birch, beech and walnut trees. The hickories are also starting to turn yellow. Sourwoods and some dogwoods are still bright red, and the maples are adding red to our mountains. [H]igh winds could bring down some of the leaves. Lower elevations should peak during the first week of November and color will likely continue into the second week.

A quick check of several other state parks (Crowders Mountain, Gorges, South Mountains, and Table Rock State Parks) finds that the color peaks have passed in those locations and my contacts in Gorges and South Mountains report the trails are nearly leafless now. It seems we are rapidly approaching the end of the fall color season for this year. I hope you were able to get up here during periods of good weather to check out the fall foliage displays this year.

For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). Happy and safe driving!

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

Fall Color Report for Week of October 21

Well, you know the dictum – it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature! You may remember that last weekend I said it was probably peak color time for the Boone to Grandfather area. But I was wrong, to say the least! After a drive off the mountain on Saturday, Mother Nature surprised me by bringing out the brilliant reds from the red maples and oaks, contrasting them against the bright yellows of late turning sugar maples. This combination brought out the colors all along the eastern flank of the mountains, from Ashe County down to Linville Falls.

Given the mostly calm and sunny weather expected this week, I would say that these colors will persist to the coming weekend. Note that the best color viewing is either early in the morning when the sun is at a low angle, or just before dusk, for the same reason. Those are also the best times to take photos of the leaves. I saw good color all the way down into the foothills and even as far as Wilkesboro and beyond, but the intensity of colors is much better closer to the mountains at elevations between 1,500′ and 3,000′.

It is true, though, that many trees above 3,000′ have lost leaves, especially the tulip poplars and some of the early turning maples and birches, but enough trees remain with leaves to make a trip up here worth the effort. You will especially like the views off the Parkway of the leaves at lower elevations, where the colors are reaching their peak now.

Farther south, my contacts tell me that colors are good from Maggie Valley and Waynesville, on into the Smokies. In Highlands many places are now at their peak. Karen Kandl, Associate Director of the Highlands Biological Station, writes that between Cullowhee and Cashiers and over to Highlands “many of the small oaks along the road are deep dark reds. Tulip poplars and beeches are yellow. Sassafras is yellow, orange and red. When the sun hits these leaves in the early morning, it is absolutely beautiful.” This past weekend was good, and colors should hold to the coming weekend also.

Matt Popowski gives us weekly updates from Chimney Rock: “Just in the past couple days some nice yellows and oranges have appeared on the tops of mountain peaks around Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. Bright, colorful foliage is visible along major driving routes, offering a stunning drive to Chimney Rock. The poplars are a vibrant gold now and the sourwoods, dogwoods and sassafras have turned red in the Park.” Although there is still a lot of green, “Chimney Rock’s fall colors should continue to brighten dramatically over the next couple weeks.”

Pilot Mountain State Park is coloring up nicely now and according to the rangers, will peak this week and the coming weekend. From now till early November If you go up there on a weekend, note that parking could be tight, so either go early, or be prepared to wait for a space.

For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors) . Happy and safe driving!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

Fall Color Report for Week of October 14

This was the peak fall color weekend for the Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain region, and fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway was brilliant and awe inspiring. I think the leaf color will last through this week to the upcoming weekend. If you are planning to come up this week or next weekend, there should still be color in this area of the High Country, even though it may be slightly past peak. There are still many green trees starting to turn, so colors should persist for a while. For example, oaks are just now starting to turn, and they bring nice deep rust red colors to the landscape.

On Saturday, I took a long drive from Boone all the way down to Asheville, then back along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Asheville proper has not yet peaked, and there is still plenty of green there which will turn in the next 10 days. As you progress north on the Parkway from Asheville, colors become more vibrant as elevation increases, peaking around 4,000′. Craggy Gardens offers some great views and easy hiking, but note that at this elevation (over 5,700′) the colors are past their peak. But with the colors coming out in lower locations, the views from there are tremendous, and I still recommend taking the drive up to this spot.

However, to be truthful (and I report the colors as I see them) the fall foliage display this year is not as vibrant or intense as in past years. The reds, while apparent in patches here and there, are duller than usual, resulting in a yellow/orange cast to this year’s display. Some trees turned early this year and two storms knocked leaves off just as they were reaching their most intense color (mainly birches and maples). Also, oaks, which are traditionally late turners, seem even more behind this year, which is why many locations still have colors mixed with green. That being said, I still think it’s worth the drive up to the mountains to see the colors – this is still nature’s best color display, even if it’s not a 10 this year!

Colors look good in and around Mt. Mitchell, but between there and Linville, where the Parkway dips down lower, colors go back to pre-peak conditions, with lots of green hanging around. Colors pick up, as I noted above, in the Grandfather to Blowing Rock area, and continue on up to the Virginia border. Some of my readers inform me that down by Highlands/Cashiers, colors are about the same as they are in the Boone area, which means they are near peak in that area.

Matt Popowski, from Chimney Rock State Park, reports that “the Chimney Rock area overall still has a lot of green” and some leaves are turning around the Chimney level. He also writes that the “tulip poplar trees are turning gold and the sourwoods are a nice red”. Over the next week he expects more color in the dogwoods, buckeyes, birch, beech, walnuts and sassafras with peak colors there in a couple of weeks, when “the oaks and hickories are at their most vibrant”.

For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors) . Happy and safe driving!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

Fall Color Report for Week of October 7

While this past Saturday was beautiful, and hopefully people enjoyed the fall colors in the High Country, Sunday turned cloudy, rainy and cool. Monday is supposed to be partially dreary also, but then after that, the weather reports look very promising for a sunny end to the week and cool, clear days on the weekend, all the way from the Smokies to the Virginia border. That’s good, because the colors in the Highlands/Cashiers and Boone areas are going to peak by mid-week, and those colors will persist through the weekend. So, if you’re thinking of heading up to the mountains to see the fall foliage, this coming week and weekend look to be a good bet.

The birches have really come on this past week, providing a yellow highlight to the forests and the tulip poplars are starting to yellow up also; however, they tend to lag behind the birches. Beeches have also started yellowing, but they soon turn to brown, as do the magnolias and chestnut sprouts. Sugar Maples continue their progression toward orange and yellow, turning first on the outside of the crown, with the colors then working their way inward with time. Interestingly, tulip poplars turn in an opposite manner, from the inside out. Why some trees turn from the inside out and others from the outside in is one of the mysteries of fall leaf color!

Red maples, red oaks, sourwoods, dogwoods, Virginia Creeper and blueberries are all giving the forests that red accent which most people agree makes for a great fall color season. If the maples and oaks do well this year, we should have an exceptional fall color season. We’ll know later this week if that will happen.

Colors have peaked at higher elevations, such as Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell and Roan Mountain, and the quality looks pretty good. Around Blowing Rock at Bass and Price Lakes, colors are also very vibrant now, and perhaps among the best along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Craggy Gardens, Mt. Pisgah, and Graveyard Fields are reported to be at their peaks, and should be excellent this week. The southern end of the Parkway though, has not yet peaked, so maybe reserve a trip there for later.

This is the week to take in the foliage at high elevations, so for scenic drives, head upwards! The Cherohala Skyway in Robbinsville is a good bet, as is the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Cherokee, past Maggie Valley, and then on to Graveyard Fields at milepost 418. Craggy Gardens is a favorite spot, as is the Linn Cove Viaduct just north of Grandfather Mountain. Doughton Park at milepost 340 should be looking good these days and is a great place for hikes as is Mt. Mitchell State Park. Also, check out the various apple cider/honey stands along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s time for North Carolina apples!

A really great website for fall foliage color reports can be found at the Blue Ridge Parkway Guide by Virtual Blue Ridge: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/color-reports/. They update frequently, and have archived reports from the past and they cover the entire 470 miles of the Parkway. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). Happy and safe driving!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

Fall Color Report for Week of September 30, 2012

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

After driving around the mountains this week, I feel comfortable saying that the timing of peak color for this year should be on schedule with past years. Although some trees turned early this year (dogwoods, sourwoods, maples), the rest of the trees seem to be progressing at their usual pace, and based on what I saw this weekend, I think the colors will peak between next weekend and the following one, putting them right on their usual schedule.

For the Boone area, I notice that there are patches of good color here and there, but most of the slopes are still primarily green. However, color is showing up more and more each day. By next weekend I think color will be well along, even peaking above 3,500′ elevation, such as at Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and other high peaks. I have a report that down by Highlands, the trees are also progressing at about the same pace, although they may be slightly behind the Boone area, but not by much.

I took a hike through the Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, just outside West Jefferson in Ashe County. There was good color on a few slopes, particularly those in a cold air drainage, while off in the distance, the hills were beginning to turn from green to yellow/orange. Birches have picked up this week, and are turning bright yellow. Burning bush (Euonymus alata) is reaching its peak burgundy red now, as are high and low bush blueberries. The once majestic American chestnut, whose sprouts are quite common in this natural area, is turning yellow followed by a nice chocolate brown. Maples are showing a variety of colors, from yellow to orange to red, often all within one leaf! Scarlet oaks are beginning to turn deep burgundy, while beeches are turning yellow then bronze at higher elevations. Sassafras is also turning now, and one can find leaves of just about any color, from yellow all the way to red, on the same tree.

I highly recommend taking Rt. 194 south, starting just south of West Jefferson on US 221, over to Todd. This is one of North Carolina’s scenic byways and is a wonderful way to see great fall colors and rural landscapes but without all the traffic one gets on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is also the general store in Todd should you want to stop and get something to eat or to buy a T-shirt. Another destination is Satulah Mountain, just outside Highlands. If you take US 64 south from Highlands to Franklin (the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway) you’ll encounter a number of beautiful falls in the Cullasaja Gorge, including Dry Falls, which you can walk behind!

VisitNC.com has a great listing of scenic drives, plus summaries of the history of the areas as well as maps. Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). Happy and safe driving!

Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

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Maps via Foliage Network – http://www.foliagenetwork.net

*The following information is courtesy of Dr Howie Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University. Dr Neufeld is other wise known as “The Fall Color Guy”. Along with sharing his expertise with the NC Division of Tourism, he has agreed for WataugaRoads.com to post his information.*

Fall Color Report for Week of September 23, 2012

I’m happy to report that fall color is now showing up on most mountain slopes in the High Country. The hills are still mostly green, but just driving on the roads, or hiking on mountain trails, you can see the beginnings of fall color dotting the slopes. As expected, the best developed color is at the higher elevations, especially above Stack Creek on the eastern flank of Grandfather Mountain. This one ridge always peaks early each season, but it also has some of the most spectacular color each year. Something about that ridge causes the colors to be vibrant every year. It’s easily seen from vantages off the Parkway and from the northern rock outcrop on Beacon Hill (or from the parking lot too).

Sourwoods continue to turn red, while maples are changing yellow/orange and red. High bush blueberries are turning a deep red while sassafras is just starting to turn its usual mixture of orange/yellow/red. Birches are dropping a lot of leaves early for some reason, but those remaining are yellowing up. Fraser magnolias are beginning to change from green to their usual yellow followed by a changeover to chocolate brown. Most other trees are still mainly green.

I saw good color this Sunday along the Parkway between Linville and Blowing Rock. If you hike around Price Lake next weekend (a flat and easy two miles) you should be rewarded with much better color. Our weather has turned perfect for good fall color: cool mornings and sunny days, the perfect duo! This Monday, the low is supposed to be in the mid 30s! As long as it stays above freezing, we’ll be ok. My feeling is that colors will peak at their usual times this season; mid-October in the Boone and Highlands areas and the third week of October in the Asheville area and other lower elevation locations.

For some great drives this coming week, consider roads that take you high up in elevation, where the color develops first. One great drive is the Blue Ridge Parkway north from US 421 to Laurel Springs and points north up past Bluff Mountain and Doughton Park. Another good drive is the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, which starts at US 276 in Waynesville, and goes for about 79 miles (you don’t have to drive all of it to see great fall color!). This road traverses some high elevations and is for viewing early fall leaf displays. See this website for a complete description of the drive: .

A great resource for drives is the NCDOT’s Scenic Byway Book (http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/scenic/) which has 54 scenic drives in the state. VisitNC.com also has a great listing of scenic drives, plus summaries of the history of the areas as well as maps. Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). Happy and safe driving!

Fall Color Report for Week of September 16th, 2012
This report marks our first official fall leaf color report for the 2012 Fall Color Season in the North Carolina Mountains – that is, we will be up on VISITNC.COM and will be here for the duration of this year’s fall color season. Many of you have been writing me and wondering if the record warmth we’ve experienced this year will affect fall leaf color, and I’ve been telling everyone that since this is an unprecedented year in terms of warmth that we have nothing to base our predictions on. What I can say is that we have not had any severe drought, which is good, and recently, the weather has shifted noticeably cooler, with warm sunny days, and all of these conditions are conducive to good fall leaf color. So, this far ahead, I am predicting a good year for fall leaf color, assuming our weather continues to cooperate over the next few weeks.

That being said, I have noticed some unusual patterns among the trees. Dogwood trees began turning two weeks ago, which is very early. I’ve also noticed sumac along roadsides turning red, and sugar maples have been turning orange and yellow since late August. Today, I spoke to the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers, and we went up to Roan Mountain, elevation ~5,800’. There, I saw noticeable coloration in the woods, and even all the way down to 3,000’ at Elk River in Avery County. Most of the trees turning color were sugar maples (yellow/orange to red), mountain ash (yellowish), and chestnuts (also yellow, but browning too due to a leaf disease they get each year at this time). Some birches were also yellowing up while black locusts were dropping their leaves due to a native insect that eats their leaves.

So, are these observations indicative of an early fall leaf color season? It is possible that some species might react to the warm temperatures and drop leaves early, while others maintain their usual schedule. If that happens, we may see a somewhat extended, but diluted fall color season. If most trees turn color at their usual time, then we should expect a great fall color season. We’ll know more each week, and I’ll keep you informed as to how all this works out.

For some great drives, consider coming up Rt. 261 from Bakersville/Spruce Pine to Roan Mountain. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road there, and you can hike in the spruce-fir forests on one side and on the balds on the other. It’s a great place to hike, with tremendous views all around. Other drives include the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain State Park, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and points north and south. U.S. 64 through Cashiers/Highlands is also a wonderful drive, and there are numerous places to stop and hike along the way.

Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fall-Color-Guy/222437294470967) and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors). Happy and safe driving!

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Fall Color Report for Week of September 9th, 2012

This Sunday, a high pressure system from the upper Midwest moved into the North Carolina Mountains, bringing with it sunny, dry, and cooler air. Temperatures on Sunday got as low as 46oF, which is great sleeping weather and also just what the doctor has ordered for a good fall display! We are about four weeks away from peak color in the Boone area, and if the weather conditions stay like this over the next three weeks, we should expect a good fall color season.

We are fortunate not to have had any severe drought this summer, and that’s another good sign it could be a good fall color season. However, a dry period these next few weeks may make for more intense colors, particularly the reds, according to most fall color predictors. However, the mechanism they propose, which is that mild drought concentrates the sugars, doesn’t make much biological sense to me. Rather, I think that a dry period means more sunny days and the more sun, the more sugars a tree can make. When trees load up on sugars, they produce more anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give us the red colors.

Since last week’s report, there hasn’t been much change in the status of the trees. It’s still very green throughout the mountains. However, if you take a hike through the woods (and I recommend that you do!), you’ll see plenty of signs of the coming fall in the understory. The bright red berries on the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and the dappled red berries of the False Solomon’s Seal are sure signs that summer is ending. Indian Cucumber Root, another understory herb, has the unusual habit of setting its dark black berries against a red splash of color on the leaves below the fruits, perhaps to aid in attracting animals to disperse the seeds (see the picture below). I wonder what eats those seeds. One published study suggested deer, small mammals, and possibly birds might remove the fruits.

Remember, fall colors start first at the higher elevations and next week I’ll be checking out the high elevation areas and reporting in detail on their fall color status. Stay tuned, and have a good week!
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Conceived by Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow
Map Constructed by Michael Denslow

This map above gives an estimation of the timing of fall color peaks for the various regions of North Carolina. If you have used our map in the past, you’ll see that we have added two new features to the mountain section of our fall color map: towns and scenic roads. We hope these new graphics help you orient yourself as you decide where to visit in the North Carolina Mountains during our fall foliage season. This map differs from most other such maps because it combines the effects of both elevation and latitude on fall color, whereas most other maps simply use elevation alone.

We constructed the map using the following assumptions. First, we assumed that fall color would start earlier at higher elevations. We then figured (guessed!) that for each 1,000′ increase in elevation, peak fall colors would occur about one week earlier, with the exception of those areas near the coast, where we divided the elevation into 500′ sections.

For the latitude effect, we used data from published papers suggesting that each degree of latitude north is equivalent to going up in elevation by about 200 m (656′). This means that if you were to compare 3,000′ down in Murphy with 3,000′ in northern Ashe County (which are about 2.5 degrees apart), it would be as if you were really at 3,656′ in Ashe County, at least fall color peak-wise. In other words, the same elevation in the north is cooler than the same elevation in the south, which causes the vegetation to differ. The resultant cooler temperatures mean that peak fall colors will come earlier to those same elevations in the north than in the south.

Thus, our map is among the first to take both elevation and latitude into consideration. However, it is only an approximation, and we would love to hear from any of you as to whether we have hit the fall color peak correctly or missed it. Over the next few years, we hope to “adjust” the map to better model the progression of fall colors throughout our state.
Thanks to Michael Denslow of the Department of Biology at ASU for creating this graphic.

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